A spacecraft that will be deliberately slammed into an asteroid in the fall of 2022 will mark the first test of a technology that promises to one day protect Earth from a catastrophic collision, NASA said on Thursday.
NASA plans to launch its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft later this month targeting asteroid moonlet Dimorphos, which orbits a larger asteroid in a binary system that poses no threat to Earth, NASA scientists said pre-launch press conference.
The spacecraft, about 100 times smaller than its target and traveling at a speed of 15,000 miles per hour, will slam into Dimorphos in an attempt to alter its orbit around the larger Didymos, DART lead project coordinator Nancy Chabot said.
“This isn’t going to destroy the asteroid. It’s just going to give it a small nudge. It’s actually going to deflect its path around the larger asteroid,” Chabot said. “It’s only going to be a change of about 1 percent.”
While the test appears modest compared with fanciful accounts of nuclear explosions used to destroy threating asteroids at the last minute, Chabot explained that the technology being tested would target Earth-bound objects years or even decades ahead of any collision.
“A small nudge,” Chabot said, “would add up to a big change in its future position.”
DART is scheduled to blast off from Vandenberg Space Force Base in the state of California on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the launch window opening at 10:20 p.m. local time on November 24.