NASA has been working with agencies around the globe to develop a space defense technology that would be used to protect Earth from anticipated asteroid impacts. Though there’s no expected impacts in our relatively near future, such a technology may prove vital for protecting humanity in the future, and as such work is underway now to test possible defense methods. One of these tests will be carried out by NASA , and it’ll involve slamming a spacecraft into an asteroid to divert its course.
The upcoming test is call Double Asteroid Redirection Test, DART for short. This will mark the first time NASA has set out to demonstrate the effectiveness (or possibly lack of it) of one of its asteroid deflection techniques. DART received approval from NASA on June 23, though the exact testing date isn’t clear at the moment. The spacecraft involved in the test will be about the size of a fridge and it will travel at a rate 9 times faster than a bullet, according to the space agency.
The target of the test is one of two asteroids that comprise a binary system — Didymos B, the smaller of the two, will be struck by the spacecraft. This binary asteroid system has been studied by researchers for years, and it is slated to make a ‘distant approach’ to our own planet in the next half-decade. Overall, the smaller of the two — the DART target — is about 530ft across.
A self-targeting system built into the spacecraft will enable it to aim itself at the asteroid; researchers on Earth will see the impact take place and be able to calculate the effects it has on the asteroid’s trajectory over time. Assuming an asteroid is determined to be a threat while it is still very distant, it would only take a very small change to its trajectory to derail its course by a significant distance.