Dubbed the ‘real-life Armageddon mission,’ a spacecraft that will purposefully crash into a ‘hazardous’ asteroid is set to launch.
NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (or DART mission) will depart from Earth next month and carry out a universe-first manoeuvre in space less than a year later.
It's hoped the rocket will be able to successfully change the course of a small moon orbiting a near-Earth asteroid, paving the way for us to be able to protect our planet from a potential asteroid collision in future.
Elon Musk-founded SpaceX will provide the Falcon 9 rocket, which will launch from the Vandenburg Space Force Base in California at 10:20pm Pacific Time on November 23.
For everyone in the UK, this will happen on November 24 at 5:20am GMT. Live coverage will air on NASA’s TV channel, app and website.
The November launch will be NASA’s ‘first full-scale demonstration’ of Earth-defending technology. In September 2022, the agency is set to re-test the asteroid deflection technology to see how it impacts the motion of a near-Earth object in space.
Near-Earth objects (NEOs) are asteroids and comets which orbit within 29 miles of Earth.
NASA and other space agencies are particularly focused on detecting and characterising ‘larger’ NEOs, some of which grow to a whopping 460 feet and over.
The target of this latest deflection technology is a small moon orbiting the near-Earth asteroid.
Some 20 years ago, a binary system involving an NEO was found to have a moon orbiting it.
The NEO asteroid is known as Didymos, which means ‘twin’ in Greek. The name was used to describe how the larger asteroid is orbited by a smaller moon which is 525 feet in diameter.
Before being named Dimorphos, the small moon was branded ‘Didymos B’.
It was Kleomenis Tsiganis, planetary scientist and member of the DART team, who suggested the moon’s name change.
“Dimorphos, which means ‘two forms’, reflects the status of this object as the first celestial body to have the ‘form’ of its orbit significantly changed by humanity,” he said.
The DART rocket will deliberately collide with Dimorphos to change the asteroid's path through space in September 2022.
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In a few years after the impact, the European Space Agency will conduct a follow-up investigation of the moon and its NEO.
DART program executive Andrea Riley described the mission as an important "first step in testing methods for hazardous asteroid deflection".
“Potentially hazardous asteroids are a global concern, and we are excited to be working with our Italian and European colleagues to collect the most accurate data possible from this kinetic impact deflection demonstration," she said.
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