NASA launches first planetary defense mission, double asteroid redirection test ‘DART’


Michael Bonner

Without help from Bruce Willis or Ben Affleck, NASA launched its mission early Wednesday morning aimed at diverting the path of an asteroid speeding through space.

NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) is the world’s first full-scale mission to test technology for defending Earth against potential asteroid or comet hazards and reminiscent of the blockbuster movie “Armageddon.” It launched Wednesday at 1:21 a.m. on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

The spacecraft’s mission is to crash into a small 530-foot diameter asteroid named Dimorphos in September of 2022. The asteroid is not expected to come within a million miles of Earth, but the test will provide data for situations when an asteroid may become a threat.

“DART is turning science fiction into science fact and is a testament to NASA’s proactivity and innovation for the benefit of all,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement. “In addition to all the ways NASA studies our universe and our home planet, we’re also working to protect that home, and this test will help prove out one viable way to protect our planet from a hazardous asteroid should one ever be discovered that is headed toward Earth.”

The spacecraft will intercept the Didymos system, where the asteroid is located , between Sept. 26 and Oct. 1, 2022, NASA said.

It will intentionally slam into Dimorphos, which orbits Didymos, at roughly 4 miles per second.

Scientists estimate the kinetic impact will shorten Dimorphos’ orbit around Didymos by several minutes. Researchers will measure that change using telescopes on Earth and the results will validate and improve scientific computer models critical to predicting the effectiveness of the strategy for defense of asteroids.

“We have not yet found any significant asteroid impact threat to Earth, but we continue to search for that sizable population we know is still to be found,” said Lindley Johnson, planetary defense officer at NASA Headquarters. “Our goal is to find any possible impact, years to decades in advance, so it can be deflected with a capability like DART that is possible with the technology we currently have.”

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