NASA’s Doomsday Test spacecraft crashing into an asteroid snaps a rare photo of its target

A NASA spacecraft that will crash into an asteroid this month to test our planetary defenses has snapped its first photograph of its target.

The groundbreaking Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission will hit the binary near-Earth asteroid Didymos this month.

Nasa has shared the first image captured by DART, the asteroid-bumping spacecraft that will crash into binary near-Earth asteroid Didymos later this month

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Nasa has shared the first image captured by DART, the asteroid-bumping spacecraft that will crash into binary near-Earth asteroid Didymos later this monthPhoto credit: NASA

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Data will be collected before, during and after the collision to assess whether the cosmic battering ram altered the rock’s orbit.

There is hope that similar future missions could distract any planet-destroying asteroids on a collision course with Earth.

Last week, Nasa shared an image captured by DART of the asteroid Didymos and its small moon Dimorphos.

It is the smaller, orbiting Moon, about 85 meters in diameter, that the spacecraft will impact on September 26.

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The first photo of the device is a composite of 243 individual images taken with DART’s sole instrument.

This is a high-resolution camera called Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical Navigation (DRACO).

The photo was taken on July 27 and published on September 7.

At this point, DART was still 20 million miles (32 million kilometers) from the asteroids, making them appear as a single point of light.

As the spacecraft draws closer, fans will be treated to clearer images of the couple, who are just over six million miles from Earth.

“This first set of images will be used as a test to prove our imaging techniques,” said DART engineer Elena Adams of the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, who is leading the mission.

“The quality of the image is similar to what we could get from ground-based telescopes, but it’s important to show that DRACO is functioning properly and can see its target in order to make any necessary adjustments before we start using the images to guide the spacecraft.” fly into the asteroid autonomously.”

Ultimately, DART will use DRACO to navigate to and impact Dimorphis independently of mission control on Earth.

For now, however, Nasa will use images taken by the device every five hours to help it find its way to its destination.

Within approximately 24 hours of its dramatic impact, DART will take control to fine-tune its final approach.

“When we see the DRACO images from Didymos for the first time, we can iron out the best settings for DRACO and tweak the software,” said NASA’s Julie Bellerose.

“In September we will refine what DART is targeting by getting a more accurate fix on the location of Didymos.”

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DART mission explained

DART will dramatically impact an asteroid 6 million miles from Earth later this month.

The ambitious project, involving teams from NASA and the European Space Agency, is a test of technology to prevent a killer asteroid from hitting Earth.

Should it prove successful, it could pave the way for a new planetary defense system capable of deflecting incoming space rocks before impact.

The scheme mirrors the plot of the 1998 blockbuster flick Armageddon, in which Nasa flies a spacecraft to an asteroid to prevent it from hitting Earth.

“DART will be the first demonstration of kinetic impactor technology to alter the motion of an asteroid in space,” NASA says on its website.

The DART spacecraft consists of a box-shaped body about twice the size of a washing machine, flanked by two 18-metre-long solar panels.

On November 24, 2021, it launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

DART will reach the binary near-Earth asteroid Didymos about nine months later, in September – 11 million miles from its home planet.

Didymos is about 740 meters in diameter and is located between the orbits of Earth and Mars. It’s not the primary focus of the mission.

Instead, NASA’s intrepid battering ram will target a smaller asteroid — or moonlet — that closely orbits Didymos.

DART will smash into space rock at 15,000 miles per hour to change its orbit around its host.

After DART crashes into its target, NASA and ESA will train telescopes on Earth to verify that the scheme worked.

A tiny probe launched alongside the mission will collect data before, during and after the impact.

“The DART spacecraft will achieve kinetic impact deflection by intentionally crashing into the moon at a speed of approximately 4 miles per second using an onboard camera (dubbed DRACO) and sophisticated autonomous navigation software,” Nasa says.

“The collision will change the speed of the moon in its orbit around the main body by a fraction of a percent.

“This will change the moon’s orbital period by several minutes – enough to be observed and measured with telescopes on Earth.”

Space experts have already identified at least 26,000 so-called “near-Earth objects”.

An estimated 4,700 meet NASA’s classification as “Potentially Hazardous Objects”.

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That means they are more than 500 feet in diameter, would fly within 4.7 million miles of Earth, and would wreak havoc on impact.

Didymos isn’t seen as a threat to our planet, but DART promises to help Nasa and ESA build a system to protect Earth from space rocks that may come a little too close for comfort in the future.

The DART spacecraft consists of a box-shaped body about twice the size of a washing machine, flanked by two 18-metre-long solar panels

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The DART spacecraft consists of a box-shaped body about twice the size of a washing machine, flanked by two 18-metre-long solar panels
Radar images of the near-Earth asteroid (65803) Didymos and its small moon taken on November 23, 24 and 26, 2003

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Radar images of the near-Earth asteroid (65803) Didymos and its small moon taken on November 23, 24 and 26, 2003Photo credit: NASA
NASA's DART mission will impact an asteroid between Earth and Mars

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NASA’s DART mission will impact an asteroid between Earth and MarsPhoto credit: NASA

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