NASA is starting development and design on the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), a project that will look for ways to deflect asteroids before they reach Earth, according to an agency release.
"DART would be NASA's first mission to demonstrate what's known as the kinetic impactor technique - striking the asteroid to shift its orbit - to defend against a potential future asteroid impact", said Lindley Johnson, NASA's planetary defense officer in Washington, in the press release.
Andy Cheng, one of the leaders of the Johns Hopkins team, added: "DART is a critical step in demonstrating we can protect our planet from a future asteroid impact". "Since we don't know that much about their internal structure or composition, we need to perform this experiment on a real asteroid", Chang said. "With DART, we can show how to protect Earth from an asteroid strike with a kinetic impactor by knocking the hazardous object into a different flight path that would not threaten the planet".
Space commentator Mathew Pavletich said it's expected to be in space in 2022 to coincide with a close approach by the Didymos asteroid.
NASA JHUAPLAn artist's impression of DART
DART's first mission is to intercept a small, non-threatening asteroid system known as Didymos. The body consists of asteroid Didymos A, around 780 meters in size, and Didymos B, which is around 160 meters wide. The primary body is a rocky S-type object, with composition similar to that of many asteroids.
"So instead of hitting the Earth, with an asteroid that masses many millions of tonnes, and perhaps destroying a city or worse, it might just narrowly miss the Earth by a thousand kilometres or so", he said.
NASA has revealed that Didymos will make an approach near Earth in October 2022, the space agency will launch a spacecraft of around refrigerator-sized which will target the Disymos B. The space agency unveiled that at the time of collision of DART spacecraft and Disymos B the spacecraft will travel at 3.7 miles per second.
The kinetic impact technique works by changing the speed of a threatening asteroid by a small fraction of its total velocity, but by doing it well before the predicted impact so that this small nudge will add up over time to a big shift of the asteroid's path away from Earth.
Small asteroids hit Earth nearly daily, breaking up harmlessly in the upper atmosphere. In 2016, the space agency set up the Planetary Defense Coordination Office to detect debris that could potentially slam into Earth.
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