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NASA launches spacecraft to test asteroid defense concept

NASA launched a spacecraft on a mission to crash into an asteroid and test if it would be possible to deflect a fast space rock if Earth was threatened

LOS ANGELES – NASA launched a spacecraft on Tuesday evening as part of a mission to crash into an asteroid and test whether it would be possible to deflect a fast space rock if Earth was threatened.

The DART spacecraft, short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test, took off from Vandenberg Space Force base on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as part of a $ 330 million project with echoes of the Bruce Willis film “Armageddon”.

If all goes well, in September 2022, it will crash into Dimorphos, an asteroid 525 feet (160 meters) in diameter, at 15,000 mph (24,139 km / h).

“It’s not going to destroy the asteroid. It’s just going to give it a little boost, ”said Nancy Chabot, mission manager, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, which manages the project.

Dimorphos is orbiting a much larger asteroid called Didymos. The pair pose no danger to Earth but offer scientists a way to measure the effectiveness of the collision.

Dimorphos performs an orbit of Didymos every 11 hours 55 minutes. DART’s objective is a crash that will slow Dimorphos down and drop it closer to the larger asteroid, reducing its orbit by 10 minutes.

The change in orbital period will be measured by telescopes on Earth. The minimum change for the mission to be considered successful is 73 seconds.

The DART technique could prove useful in altering the course of an asteroid years or decades before it hits Earth with the potential for disaster.

A little nudge “would add up to a big change in its future position, and then the asteroid and Earth wouldn’t be on a collision course,” Chabot said.

Scientists are constantly looking for asteroids and plotting their trajectory to determine if they could hit the planet.

“While there is currently no known asteroid on an impact path with Earth, we do know that there is a large population of near-Earth asteroids,” said Lindley Johnson, planetary defense officer at The NASA. “The key to planetary defense is finding them long before they pose a threat of impact.”

DART will take 10 months to reach the asteroid pair. The collision will occur approximately 11 million kilometers from Earth.

Ten days before, DART will launch a tiny observation spacecraft provided by the Italian space agency that will follow it.

DART will play the video until it is destroyed on impact. Three minutes later, the towing device will take pictures of the impact site and the ejected material.

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