And if the Armageddon movie script starring Bruce Willis becomes a reality, what force should we apply to an asteroid threatening Earth to cause it to deviate from its course? This is a question that NASA will try to answer with the DART mission.
On Wednesday November 24 at 7.20 a.m., NASA will launch a 500 kg rocket into space as part of la mission Double Asteroid Redirection Test – DART, “dart” in English. The latter is not intended to explore the confines of the universe, but to crash into a double asteroid located about 11 million kilometers from Earth. Contrary to what one might think, this mission does pursue a scientific goal and the resulting data could one day save humanity.
By projecting a rocket on the binary asteroid Didymos (780 meters in diameter) and its moon Dimorphos (160 meters), NASA and the European Space Agency are trying to determine what force would have to be applied to an near-Earth asteroid to cause it to deviate from its trajectory if it threatened Earth.
By sacrificing a spaceship, the two space agencies indeed wish to create a “kinetic deviation” of the celestial object. An experiment which amounts to 300 million dollars.
A live launch
As is often the case with NASA missions, a live broadcast of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch from Vandenberg base in California will be available on the YouTube channel from the space agency. The launch is scheduled for 7:20 a.m. KST on Wednesday, November 24. It can also be followed from the official NASA application, but also from its website or SpaceX’s YouTube channel from 6:10 a.m.
The mission was originally scheduled for July 21, but was delayed due to supply chain issues related to the coronavirus.
While the launch of the DART mission is imminent, the encounter with the double asteroid is not expected for a while. The rocket should indeed take 10 months to travel the millions of kilometers that separate it from the two asteroids. We will therefore have to wait until the fall of 2022 for a meeting to take place.
The rocket will be accompanied by a satellite which will record data on the collision, but also on the behavior of the two asteroids after the impact. NASA has measured that the asteroid’s moon, Dimorphos, takes 11 hours and 55 minutes to circle it. If the mission is successful, this time should be changed. The spacecraft is expected to strike Dimorphos at a speed of 24,000 km / h.
In 2024, the European Space Agency will launch the Hera mission. The latter will meet two asteroids to observe and measure the impact of DART on the two celestial objects. The spacecraft is expected to arrive in January 2027.
Thousands of asteroids crash into Earth
This is the first flight demonstration for planetary defense. The idea is not to annihilate or deflect all the celestial objects that could strike the Earth, but to determine the means to be put in place to do so if an asteroid really came to threaten our dear planet. The point is that the Earth is regularly struck by space objects of all kinds, but the majority of them disintegrate in our atmosphere.
About 23,000 asteroids are currently found near Earth. And the most dangerous of them is named Bennu. It is a celestial body 500 meters in diameter that could strike us by 2300, but the “chances” are still minimal (0.057%).