It’s been about 10 months since DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) left our planet to start a journey towards its destruction. And it is that unlike the rest of space missions to date, in which the structural integrity of the vehicle or space object was a key element, this time success will be measured, in part, by DART’s ability to collide with Dimorphos.
In case you don’t know the mission, as its name suggests its task is to try to “redirect” an asteroid, that is, modify its trajectory. To what end? Well, in this case, with DART, to check if this system would be effective in avoiding the collision of an asteroid with our planet, if it were detected early enough. The concept, at its base, is extremely simple: a minimal modification of the trajectory at long range, can make a big difference in the trajectory at medium and long range.
A) Yes, DART will collide in a few hours, around 1:15 a.m. (Spanish mainland time) with Dymorphos, an asteroid about 160 meters in diameter orbiting Didymos, which is 780 meters in diameter. the impact will occur at a speed of approximately 21,600 kilometers per hour and, with all certainty, will mean the total destruction of the ship, approximately 600 kilos. The collision will take place about 11 million kilometers from Earth and, this is important, neither Dymorphos nor Didymos pose a threat to Earth, this mission is a test.
Just a few weeks ago we learned that the mission was progressing favorably, to the point that DART had already been able to establish visual contact with Dymorphos and Didynos, and that all of their components and systems, as well as your passenger, the LICIACube (Light Italian Cubesat for Imaging of Asteroid) of the Italian Space Agency, were ready for the most critical moment of the mission, the collision. Shortly before it, the Italian cubesat will undock from DART in order to collect information about the impact.
Later it will be HERA’s turn. And it is that this is a joint mission, in which DART depends mainly on NASA (although LICIACube is Italian), while HERA, which will carry out a detailed evaluation of the consequences of the DART action in the trajectory of Dymorphos nor Didymos, corresponds to ESA, the European Space Agency.
For those who want to experience this event live from the hand of the US space agency, it has scheduled a direct through its channel on YouTube which will start in a few hours, and in which we will be able to learn both the nature of the mission and the tracking data in real time and, what is more interesting, the signal from the DRACO camera (the one responsible, among others, for the navigation of the ship), while heading towards the asteroid and until it collides with it.