NASA crashes a spacecraft into an asteroid

The spacecraft filmed its target this week with a camera on board (NASA)

On September 26 this year, NASA will collide with a spacecraft on an asteroid on purpose – to see what happens next.

It is the first step towards a real solution then – Mission to hit potential doomsday asteroids on less dangerous flight paths.

NASA’s DART spacecraft recently got its first look at Didymos, its target (an asteroid with a moon in orbit).

It will later this month.

The idea is that a refrigerator-sized DART spacecraft will hit the asteroid faster than a bullet — and change its orbit.

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The spacecraft will hit the small moon Didymos B, which is orbiting the larger asteroid Didymos A.

It will hit the smaller rock at 3.7 miles per second, and NASA scientists will monitor its impact on the rock’s 530-foot flight path.

From this distance—about 20 million miles from DART—the Didymos system is still very faint, and navigation camera experts weren’t sure if the Didymos Reconnaissance Camera and Asteroid Navigation Optical Camera (DRACO) would be able to identify the asteroid yet.

But by simply combining 243 images taken by DRACO during this observation sequence, the team was able to improve them to detect and locate Didymos.

“This first set of images is being used as a test to demonstrate our imaging techniques,” said Elena Adams, a DART mission systems engineer at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.

“The image quality is similar to what we can get from ground-based telescopes, but it is important to show that DRACO is working properly and can see its target to make any necessary adjustments before we can start using the images to independently guide the spacecraft at the asteroid.”

Although the team has already run a number of navigation simulations using non-DRACO images of Didymos, DART will ultimately rely on its ability to see and process images of Didymos and Demorphos, once they are also seen, to steer the spacecraft toward the asteroid. , especially in the last four hours before the collision.

At this point, DART will need to self-mobilize to successfully influence Dimorphos without any human intervention.

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“When we first view the DRACO images of Didymos, we can determine the best settings for DRACO and adjust the program,” said Julie Bellrose, DART navigation leader at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“In September, we will improve on DART’s target by obtaining a more accurate positioning of Didymos.”

Using observations taken every five hours, the DART team will perform three trajectory correction maneuvers over the next three weeks, each of which will reduce the margin of error for the spacecraft’s required trajectory until it collides.

After the final maneuver on September 25, about 24 hours before impact, the navigation team will know the location of the target Demorphos, two kilometers away.

From there, DART will be on its own to orient itself independently to its collision with the small moon asteroid.

Watch: NASA launches a mission to test asteroid deflection technology