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The NASA spacecraft-asteroid collision

  • Published
    28th Sep, 2022
Context

Recently, the DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) spacecraft collided with the space rock Dimorphos (just 160 metres wide).

About

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.

What is an Asteroid?

  • Asteroids are small, airless rocky worlds revolving around the sun that are too small to be called planets.
  • They are also known as planetoids or minor planets.
  • In total, the mass of all the asteroids is less than that of Earth’s moon. But despite their size, asteroids can be dangerous.
  • Many have hit Earth in the past, and more will crash into our planet in the future.


What are the other possibilities of this technique?

  • At the heels of NASA, China is set to deflect a 40m diameter earth-crossing asteroid called 2020 PN1 sometime in 2026.
  • While ostensibly the drive comes from the desire to protect earth from killer asteroids, perhaps the lure of space mining lurks behind.
  • Mining rare earth elements comes with a high environmental cost. In the coming years, the penalty for polluting could make space mining economically viable.
  • If one can tug a mineral-rich asteroid near the Moon or establish a space mining factory between the orbits of earth and Mars, precious mineral resources needed for decades could be easily sourced.
  • The ‘kick’ technique that deflects asteroids can then be used to move a small asteroid into a convenient position for space mining.
  • Now shelved, NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) aimed at precisely this by bringing a 20-tonne space rock near earth to study and mine. In a way, the DART mission is also part of this frame.
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