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Italian Space Agency releases LICIACube images of DART crash

  • Published
    29th Sep, 2022
Context

The Italian Space Agency has released images of the collision captured by its LICIACube a few minutes after the collision.

About
  • LICIACube sent the images of NASA spacecraft-asteroid collision within minutes of the impact.
  • Images such as these will be crucial in helping scientists understand the structure and composition of Dimorphos, which will be important to ascertain how effective DART was in diverting the asteroid.

About LICIACube:

  • The LICIACube, also known as the Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging Asteroids, was launched from the Earth alongside the DART impactor.
  • The CubeSat was given the important task of taking pictures prior to the collision and then flying away and taking pictures of the wreckage left behind.
  • Role of LICIACube:
    • The two cameras on CubeSat are capable of comprehensive images to provide NASA with the essential information regarding the crash.
    • The cameras have been designed to take an image every six seconds till the impact. And afterward, during its flyby of the asteroid, LICIACube was tasked with taking three high-resolution images focusing on the asteroid, the impact and the debris left behind.
    • Interestingly, during its flyby, the LICIACube was also entrusted to visit another side of the asteroid and take images, something the NASA DART Impactor was never able to see.
  • The design of the LICIACube spacecraft is based on a 6U platform developed by the aerospace company Argotec  in the framework of the ArgoMoon mission, adequately suited for the LICIACube mission, which will host two instruments:
    • LEIA (LICIACube Explorer Imaging for Asteroid), a narrow field panchromatic camera to acquire images from long distance with a high spatial resolution.
    • LUKE (LICIACube Unit Key Explorer), a wide field RGB camera, allowing a multicolor analysis of the asteroidal environment.
  • Objectives of the LICIACube mission can be summarized as follows:
    • to witness the DART impact on the Dimorphos surface;
    • study the formation of the plume generated by the impact, in particular to characterize its structure and evolution, directly linked to the structure of the asteroid surface material;
    • characterize – depending on the plume’s dissipation rate – the impact site on the Dimorphos surface, to obtain measures of the crater’s size and morphology;
    • Observing the non-impacted hemisphere, to contribute to dimension and volume estimate of the target itself.

Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART)

  • DART is the first-ever mission dedicated to investigating and demonstrating one method of asteroid deflection by changing an asteroid’s motion in space through kinetic impact.
  • This method will have DART deliberately collide with a target asteroid which poses no threat to Earth, in order to change its speed and path.
  • DART’s target is the binary, near-Earth asteroid system Didymos, composed of the roughly 780-meter (2,560-foot) -diameter “Didymos” and the smaller, approximately 160-meter (530-foot)-size “Dimorphos,” which orbits Didymos.
  • DART will impact Dimorphos to change its orbit within the binary system.
  • DART is also carrying a cubesat that will film the larger spacecraft's impact and beam the footage back to researchers on Earth.
  • At the time of DART's impact, Didymos will be visible enough to be a good candidate for study and distant enough to be no danger, at approximately 6.8 million miles (11 kilometers) away from Earth.

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