NASA sets a launch date for its asteroid redirection test mission

NASA has confirmed the target launch date for the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission. That mission is meant to evaluate technologies to prevent an asteroid from impacting the Earth. The confirmed target launch date is 10:20 PM PST on November 23, 2021.

DART will head into orbit aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launching from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. NASA has also confirmed that media accreditation is open for the upcoming launch, and launch coverage will be broadcast live. NASA will air launch coverage on NASA TV, via its app, and its website.

DART is the first demonstration of NASA's kinetic impactor technique. A kinetic impactor mission will send one or more large high-speed spacecraft into the path of an asteroid to determine whether or not an asteroid can be redirected to prevent it from impacting the Earth. While meteorite impacts with the Earth of size enough to do significant damage on the ground are rare, catastrophic impacts with our planet have happened in the past.

Certainly, the most significant impact the planet has endured that we know of is the one that killed off the dinosaurs. More recently, a meteorite that exploded in the atmosphere over Russia shattered windows and caused injuries on the ground. The target asteroid for DART is a near-Earth asteroid called Didymos and its moonlet.

For now, it's unclear if media will be allowed to view the launch in person. NASA has said that protocols for the event will be communicated closer to the launch date. Past coverage of launches have been remote due to the ongoing pandemic. NASA has also promised to share any changes in target launch dates as they arise.