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NASA team confident it will successfully kill its DART spacecraft after asteroid collision

Usually associated with bad news, hearing the phrase “loss of signal” is reason to celebrate the team behind NASA’s DART spacecraft, which is scheduled to crash into an asteroid on Monday.

Most NASA spacecraft will last for years or even decades, but not the double asteroid redirection test mission. This space robot has a date of death.

Lindley Johnson, NASA’s planetary defense officer, told reporters on Thursday that he was “very confident” that DART would meet its goals and be successful.

After launching at SpaceX last fall, the appliance-sized spacecraft will travel to a binary asteroid to test its game plan for saving Earth when giant space rocks are heading for our planet. I’m tracking System Didymos. A method known as the Kinetic Impactor theory uses a DART as a bombing ram at 15,000 miles per hour, slamming into a moonlit Demorphos orbiting the larger asteroid Didymos.

Images from asteroid-shattering darts mission expected to be ‘amazing’

Elena Adams, a DART mission systems engineer at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory who oversees NASA’s mission, said about four hours before impact, the DART would operate autonomously and navigate to the end. is explained.

Using a relative navigation system called SMART Nav, DART takes aim at Didymo about an hour before impact and then slowly focuses on the smaller Dimorpho. The spacecraft sends back images at approximately one image per second.

“We hear you say, ‘We are Precision Rock. So we’re going to start ignoring Didymo, we’re heading to Dimorphos… and two and a half minutes before the collision Smart NAV… turns off,’ and we I’m going to point my camera and take the most amazing photos of this asteroid I’ve ever seen,” Adams said.

Dimorphos, which is only about 530 feet wide, is completely out of focus and not clearly visible until just before impact. The final image is taken about 2.5 seconds before the DART dives into the asteroid. Photos are still sent to the Mission Operations Center in Maryland because of his eight-second delay from the DART signal to Earth.

DART will send back images until the end, but its companion satellite, a small Italian CubeSat called LICIACube, will fly past the asteroid and keep sending back images days to months after the impact. The James Webb Space Telescope, ground-based observatories, and other spacecraft can also observe asteroid impacts from afar.

Although it has never been done before, NSA DART scientist Tom Statler says that NASA and the Japanese space agency have missions to other asteroids, so when a spacecraft crashes into an asteroid The team says they have a good idea of ​​what will happen.

“We know DART is stopped by Dimorphos for one reason,” Statler said. “The density of the DART spacecraft is actually not much different than that of an asteroid, so there is no doubt that the DART will encounter a large amount of unobtrusive material.”

DART does not change the trajectory of Didymo. This is intended to change the speed of the satellite Dimorphus by a small percentage.

“We’re moving asteroids. We’re changing the natural motion of celestial bodies in space,” Statler said. “Humanity has never done it before…this is science fiction.”

Why the ‘Armageddon’ Plot Isn’t Earth’s Best Defense Against Asteroids

DART project manager Edward Reynolds said the team has been running simulations and testing the spacecraft’s navigation since launch, so he won’t lose sleep in the upcoming collision, but that’s at 14,000 miles per hour. This does not mean that it is not difficult to hit an asteroid with a diameter of 100 meters. work.

“We do it because it’s hard,” Reynolds said. “Technologies are emerging and we can use these new technologies to protect ourselves from these threats.” “I think we’ve set ourselves up for this moment, but I’m not worried about the spacecraft. I’m not worried about the algorithms.”

If DART does its part, it will stop sending back signals after 7:00 PM ET on Monday.

“And we celebrate,” Adams said.

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