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NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirect Test (DART) mission, the world’s first planetary defense test mission, is scheduled to launch early Wednesday morning.

The agency said the mission will help determine whether intentionally crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid is an effective way to change the asteroid’s course.

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Dart, which is targeting an asteroid that poses no threat to Earth, is ready to launch No earlier than 1:20 a.m. EST on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

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The spacecraft – traveling at about 6.6 kilometers per second – is headed for the small moon asteroid Dimorphos, which orbits a larger companion asteroid called Didymos.

The intentional crash will slightly alter the asteroid’s orbit within the Didymos binary asteroid system in late September 2022, when the Didymos system is within 11 million kilometers of Earth.

“The Didymos system is an ideal candidate for DART because it has no real impact on Earth, and scientists can measure changes in Dimorphos’ orbit with ground-based telescopes,” NASA said in a media advisory.

Although no known asteroids larger than 140 meters in size have a significant chance of hitting Earth for the next 100 years, only 40% of those asteroids have been found as of October 2021.

“DART will be the first demonstration of ‘kinetic impactor’ technology in which a spacecraft intentionally collides with a known asteroid at high speed to alter the asteroid’s motion in space,” said Lindley Johnson, NASA’s planetary defense officer. said in a statement, “This technique is considered the most technologically mature approach to mitigating a potentially dangerous asteroid, and will help planetary defense experts refine the asteroid dynamic impactor computer model, allowing us to identify potentially dangerous near-term impacts in the future.” provide insight into how Earth objects can be removed.”

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According to the agency, the kinetic effect will prove that a spacecraft can autonomously navigate a target asteroid and exert kinetic effects on it. Scientists will use Earth-based telescopes to measure the effects of the impact on the asteroid system, thereby increasing modeling and predictive capabilities.

The DART spacecraft is assisted by an onboard camera and autonomous navigation software called DRACO.

Engineers also outfitted the spacecraft with NASA’s NEXT-C ion propulsion system, which was designed to increase performance and fuel efficiency for deep space missions, and a flat surface for efficient communication between Earth and the spacecraft. , slotted high-gain antenna.

Its two Roll Out Solar Arrays (ROSAs) will provide the solar power needed for the electric propulsion system upon launch and Italian Space Agency’s mini satellite LICIACube The DART is designed to capture images of kinetic effects and its immediate effects.

The DART mission is led by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) and managed under the Planetary Science Division of NASA’s Solar System Exploration Program and Science Mission Directorate.

If weather or other problems prevent a launch on the first night, the team will have another opportunity the next day, and subsequent launch attempts could take as long as February 2022.

“I am both amazed and grateful that Dart has gone from within 11 years to a spacecraft with twinkle in the eye in final preparation for launch,” said Andy Cheng, head of the Dart investigation team at APL. Why dart? “What made this possible was a great team that overcame all the challenges of building a spacecraft to do something they’ve never done before.”