Yesterday was a pretty exciting day for SpaceX, and today things got even better. NASA announced today that it has selected SpaceX as the launch partner for its upcoming Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission in 2021. The mission will examine whether or not we can divert rogue asteroids headed for Earth by slamming spacecraft into them, which frankly sounds awesome.
NASA first detailed the DART mission back in February, but at that point, it hadn’t picked a partner yet. SpaceX will be handling launch duties with its Falcon 9 rocket, which will launch from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at some point in June 2021.
The mission’s target is one of the small moons of the asteroid Didymos. Assuming everything goes to plan, the spacecraft will intercept Didymos and its moon in October 2022, when the asteroid passes within 11 million kilometers of Earth. We’ll then see if slamming a spacecraft into the moon at high speeds – a technique NASA calls “kinetic impactor” – is enough to push it off course.
Didymos isn’t a threat to us here on Earth, but the things NASA and SpaceX learn from this mission could someday inform a defense against an asteroid that is headed for our planet. The DART mission is expected to cost around $69 million.
NASA didn’t say if yesterday’s SpaceX mission – in which it successfully landed all three Falcon Heavy boosters for the first time – had any influence on its decision to name the company as its launch partner, but we wouldn’t be surprised to hear that it did. In any case, we’ll keep an ear to the ground for more information on the DART mission (a lot can change between now and June 2021, after all), so stay tuned for more.