Earth Defense’s first test bed… NASA launches asteroid orbital spacecraft tomorrow afternoon



▲ Earth Defense’s first test bed… NASA launches asteroid orbital spacecraft tomorrow afternoon

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will launch a test unmanned spacecraft tomorrow that will change the orbit of an asteroid about 11 million kilometers from Earth. This is the first time an asteroid and a spacecraft have collided and tested their orbit.

NASA’s DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) was aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 at 1:20 am on the 24th (5:20 pm Korean time) from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, US going to launch The launch scene will be broadcast live on NASA’s official YouTube channel.

▲ An image of the Dart spaceship just before it collides with the asteroid Dimorphus. (Photo=AFP Yonhap News)

▲ Image compared to the Roman Colosseum to estimate the size of the asteroid Dimormos. (Photo=ESA)

▲ Didymoon, about 160m wide, revolves around a much larger cosmic rock called Didymos, about 780m in diameter. (Photo=NASA/Naidoo et al., Aida Workshop, 2016)

The dart flies at a speed of 21,700 km/h and collides with the asteroid Dimorphus with a diameter of about 160 m orbiting the asteroid Didymos with a diameter of about 780 m in October next year. When a dart weighing about 550 kg collides, the speed of Dimorphos changes by 1%. Dimorphus is not an asteroid that poses a threat to Earth right now, but NASA’s goal is to measure whether the asteroid’s orbit can change through this test.

When an actual collision occurs in October next year, optical telescopes and planetary radar will measure whether an actual orbital change has occurred in the asteroid Dimorphus.

At a press conference earlier this month, NASA revealed the detailed missions of Dart, which cost $330 million (about 392.2 billion won).

“There are currently no known asteroids that will collide with Earth, but there are many asteroids with potential danger near Earth,” said Dr. “The key to our mission is to find asteroids (possibly colliding with Earth) as quickly as possible,” he said.

▲ 14m bus (from left to right), 19m dart spacecraft, 49m Arc de Triomphe, 93m Statue of Liberty, 163m Dimorphus, 139m Giza Pyramid, 321m Eiffel Tower, 546m One World Trade Center, Didymos at 780m, Burj Khalifa at 830m. (Photo=ESA)

Although NASA has designated Didymos as an asteroid of ‘potential danger’, neither Didymos nor Dimorphus poses a direct threat to Earth. Nevertheless, NASA chose it as a test subject because both asteroids can be observed by ground telescopes.

Dr. Nancy Chabot of the Johns Hopkins Institute of Applied Physics, who developed the dart, says that Dimorphos orbits Didymos once every 11 hours and 55 minutes.

NASA aims to cause the largest possible orbital change, but it is unlikely that Dart will actually destroy an asteroid. “The dart just pierces Dimorphus,” said Dr. So, the orbit of Dimorphus orbiting Didymos changes slightly.” He explained, “The period will only change by 1%.”

The level of orbital change can vary to some extent depending on the composition of the dimorphus. Currently, scientists are not entirely sure how porous the dimorphus structure is. “Dimorphos is the most common asteroid in the universe, and it formed about 4.5 billion years ago,” said Dr. “It’s like a normal chondrite meteorite,” he added. “It’s a mixture of rock and metal.”

▲ The crash scene is collected through the small camera-equipped satellite ‘LICIA Cube’ manufactured by the Italian Aerospace Agency. The satellite was released from the Dart spacecraft 10 days before impact. (Photo=NASA/Johns Hopkins, APL)

The crash scenes are collected through a small camera-equipped satellite ‘LICIA Cube’ manufactured by the Italian Aeronautics and Space Administration. The satellite is released from the Dart spacecraft 10 days before impact. Lysia Cube weighs 14 kg and is only about the size of an adult’s hand to arm.

▲ These 14 images are of Didimos and Didymoon taken on November 23, 24, and 26, 2003. (Photo=NASA)

Didymos and Dimorphos were identified in 1996 and 2003, respectively. In the year it was discovered, Dimorphus approached less than 5.95 million km from Earth. That’s about 15 times more distant than the moon.

The test could actually be applied to prevent an asteroid from colliding with Earth. The asteroid that NASA currently believes is the most likely to hit Earth is the asteroid Benu, discovered in 1999. NASA believes that Benu could collide with Earth in 2182 with a probability of 1 in 2700. In preparation for this, NASA is preparing a spacecraft ‘Hammer’ that will collide with Benu and change its orbit.

NASA considers asteroids with a diameter of 140 m or more and within about 7.5 million km with a distance of 0.05 AU (astronomical unit) from Earth a near-earth object (NEO), a potential danger group. There are currently more than 27,000 such objects, but NASA expects more to be discovered in the future.

By Yoon Tae-hee, staff reporter [email protected]

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