One of the more ambitious and interesting missions that NASA has conducted in recent memory is the DART mission. DART, or Double Asteroid Redirection Test, is a mission intended to determine if an asteroid that will impact the Earth can be redirected by hitting it with spacecraft. NASA has confirmed that within two days of leaving the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland, DART arrived in California at Vandenberg Space Force Base.
Vandenberg is DART’s last stop before it heads into space to conduct its mission. The spacecraft and a group of support personnel arrived at Vandenberg on Saturday, October 2. The team had only a few days of travel time, but despite the short duration of the trip, the team was relieved that the truck arrived safely.
With DART at its launch location, the spacecraft will be put through a series of tests and checks, and it will be fueled in the coming weeks in preparation for launch. The launch will utilize a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and is scheduled for late November. Prior to being loaded into its custom shipping container and placed on the semi for delivery, team members conducted a pre-shipment review to check that each part of the spacecraft was complete and ready for shipment. That has happened in mid-September.
The mission has been thoroughly tested on the ground over the last year and a half. Currently, the team is practicing spacecraft launch operations at Vandenberg and the APL Mission Operations Center in Maryland. When the mission rehearsals are complete, DART will be ready to launch and commence operations in space.
DART will be the first mission meant to test planetary defenses by demonstrating an attempt to deflect an asteroid known as kinetic impact. The target for the mission is an asteroid moonlet called Dimorphos, orbiting a larger companion known as Didymos. NASA has been clear that neither the larger asteroid nor its moonlet pose a threat to Earth but provide the opportunity to gather data on deflecting asteroids that may pose a threat to Earth in the future.