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NASA Launches DART Kinetic Impact Mission With SpaceX; Bill Nelson Quoted

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NASA launched its Double Asteroid Redirection Test on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on Wednesday to test technology for defending Earth against potential asteroid or comet hazards.

DART, an autonomous spacecraft built and managed by Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, will intentionally collide with a non-threatening known asteroid, Dimorphos, with the goal of slightly changing its motion and trajectory, NASA said.

Bill Nelson, NASA administrator, said, “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 collision will occur between September and October 2022 and is expected to shorten Dimorphos’ orbit around Didymos by several minutes. The collision will also test the effectiveness of kinetic impact as a reliable method for future asteroid deflection.

DART is equipped with a Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation (DRACO), which will turn on in one week to provide images from the Falcon 9 rocket, as well as a Small-body Maneuvering Autonomous Real Time Navigation (SMART Nav) for identifying the asteroids.

Additionally, the Italian Space Agency’s LICIACube is aboard the rocket and will be released prior to the collision to capture images of the impact and its immediate effects. 

The European Space Agency’s Hera project is slated to conduct a survey of the asteroids approximately four years after the impact.

The launch occurred ahead of schedule, as it was previously planned for Nov. 27.