NASA’s DART spacecraft moves closer to launch

Satsuki Then - Aug 21, 2021, 7:53am CDT
NASA’s DART spacecraft moves closer to launch

NASA has been hard at work on multiple missions, and one of those missions is called DART. Earlier this month, the spacecraft was sitting in the middle of its cleanroom, having its solar arrays coiled into a pair of cylinders on each side of the spacecraft. As DART gets closer to launch, NASA is talking about some of the technology that will be used for the mission.

The spacecraft has an internal imaging device known as Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical (DRACO) navigation underneath its panels. Engineers are very close to completing the integration for the spacecraft, getting it one step closer to launch. DART is an interesting mix of existing and new technologies, with some of the technology being demonstrated aboard a spacecraft for the first time.

DART, or Double Asteroid Redirection Test, is an experimental spacecraft meant to help NASA determine if the kinetic impact of technology can redirect an asteroid. NASA and other agencies worldwide are working hard on technologies that will allow them to deflect an asteroid if one was detected on a collision course with Earth. The mission will see DART fly directly into a smaller asteroid at a speed of about 15,000 miles per hour.

The goal of the impact is to change the course of the asteroid and determine if an impact is sufficient to redirect an asteroid. NASA tracks all sorts of celestial objects and has identified about 40 percent of all potentially hazardous asteroids larger than 459 feet in size.

While a small spacecraft like DART isn’t likely to deflect a very large asteroid that poses a significant danger to our planet, trying it on a smaller asteroid will show if the technique is viable at all. DRACO is a critical instrument for the mission and will capture images of the target asteroid called Dimorphos. Among the images it captures will be a last-second glimpse of its own impact site on the asteroid, which NASA says is critical to determining the effectiveness of the mission. The spacecraft’s target is about 6.8 million miles away from the earth.

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