Thus, NASA wants to test a possible way to protect our planet from the fall of asteroids on Earth.
Despite the fact that all the efforts of mankind are now addressed to combat the coronavirus, there are other serious threats. One of them is the possibility of an asteroid impacting the Earth. You might think it’s a ghostly danger, but it could become real and in an instant put an end to everything living on our planet.
NASA is preparing a DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission to test and study the use of kinetic impact to deflect the asteroid from its trajectory. The spacecraft will head for a tiny system of two asteroids called Didymos, which does not pose a threat to the Earth. The larger object (Didymos A) has a diameter of about 780 meters and the smaller one (Didymos B) has a diameter of about 160 meters. The collision is expected to occur with Didymos B, which is a typical asteroid of its size that can pose a real threat to the Earth.
DART is scheduled to be launched on July 22, 2021, and its target will be reached on September 22, 2021, when the double asteroid will be 11 million km away from Earth. To get there, the machine will install a powerful ion engine NASA Evolutionary Xenon Thruster – Commercial (NEXT-C), consisting of the engine itself and the power plant. It has a weak thrust and reduced fuel consumption – such are used to control the apparatus Deep Space 1 and Dawn. The engine has already passed performance tests, vibration tests, and thermal vacuum tests before being integrated into the propulsion system. The NEXT-C has also successfully passed the space flight simulation test.
When DART reaches the asteroid, it will be joined by LICIA (Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids). It will photograph the moment of impact and transmit the images to Earth. The impact is expected to change the orbital velocity of the Didymos B by about half a millimeter per second. This, in turn, will significantly alter its rotation period so that ground-based telescopes can detect it. The kinetic impact will leave a crater on the asteroid’s surface about 20 meters in diameter and the vehicle will be completely destroyed. The European Space Agency (ESA) is already planning its next mission, called Hera, for 2024, which will launch a spacecraft with equipment to study the effects of the DART impact on an asteroid and the internal structure of double asteroids.