NASA has its sights set on a collision course with an asteroid in space. On Sept. 26, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft will intentionally crash into Dimorphos, the moonlet of the primary asteroid Didymos. The purpose of the mission is to test a method of planetary defense that harnesses the kinetic impact of space vehicles to deflect near-Earth objects.
Experts at The Aerospace Corporation have been working closely with NASA on the DART mission, including the ion thruster used to propel the spacecraft.
“The spacecraft is going to collide with a smaller member of a binary asteroid. It's a small asteroid that orbits a bigger one, and it’s going to change the orbital period of the small object from the main object. That is something that will be measurable from the Earth,” said Nahum Melamed, Project Leader at Aerospace. “We can then measure success or lack of success and know where we are on our plans for defense preparedness”
Since 2008, Aerospace’s experts have been supporting the development of the NASA Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT) engine. The DART mission will be the maiden flight for NEXT.
“It's very significant for those of us that have worked on that ion engine and it could be very significant when there is an asteroid that's on a collision course with Earth that we want to deflect,” said Mark Crofton, Senior Scientist at Aerospace. “This is one of the most interesting projects certainly that I've ever worked on, so it's been a privilege to be part of it.”
Live coverage of DART’s impact with the asteroid Dimorphos will air on NASA TV and the agency’s website.