NASA’s DART spacecraft takes aim at an asteroid target

NASA DART asteroid collision

NASA’s DART spacecraft is predicted to collide with the smallest physique within the binary asteroid system Didymos in September 2022. Credit score: ESA–

Asteroid Didymos and Dimorphos DRACO

This image of the light from asteroid Didymos and its orbiting moonlet Dimorphos is a composite of 243 images taken by the Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation (DRACO) aboard DART on July 27, 2022. Credit: NASA JPL DART Navigation Team

“This first set of images is being used as a test to prove our imaging techniques,” said Elena Adams. She is the DART mission systems engineer at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. “The quality of the image is similar to what we could obtain from ground-based telescopes, but it is important to show that DRACO is working properly and can see its target to make any adjustments needed before we begin using the images to guide the spacecraft into the asteroid autonomously.”

A number of navigation simulations using non-DRACO images of Didymos have already been conducted by the team. However, DART will ultimately depend on its ability to see and process images of Didymos and Dimorphos, once it too can be seen, to guide the spacecraft toward the asteroid, especially in the final four hours before impact. At that point, DART will need to autonomously self-navigate to impact successfully with Dimorphos without any human intervention.

“Seeing the DRACO photos of Didymos for the primary time permits us to iron out the perfect parameters for DRACO and fine-tune the software program,” stated Julie Bellerose, DART navigation supervisor at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “In September, we are going to refine the DART goal by acquiring a extra exact dedication of the situation of Didymos.”

Utilizing observations taken each 5 hours, the DART workforce will carry out three course correction maneuvers over the following three weeks. Every of those will additional scale back the margin of error for the required spacecraft trajectory to have an effect. After the ultimate maneuver on September 25, about 24 hours earlier than affect, the navigation workforce will know the place of the Dimorphos goal inside a radius of two kilometers (1.2 miles). From there, DART shall be by itself to information itself autonomously to intercept the asteroid moon. DART will crash into Dimorphos at 4 miles (7 kilometers) per second.

DRACO then noticed Didymos throughout scheduled sightings on August 12, 13 and 22.

The Johns Hopkins Utilized Physics Laboratory (APL) manages the DART mission for NASA’s Planetary Protection Coordination Workplace as a undertaking of the company’s Planetary Mission Program Workplace. DART is the world’s first planetary protection check mission, deliberately performing a kinetic affect on Dimorphos to barely alter its movement in area. Though the asteroid poses no menace to Earth, the DART mission will reveal {that a} spacecraft can autonomously navigate to a kinetic affect on a comparatively small asteroid and show it to be a viable method for deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth if one is ever found. DART will attain its purpose on September 26, 2022.

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