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NASA spacecraft will crash into an asteroid to test planetary defense

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NASA will carry out the world’s first mission to test technology to defend Earth against possible dangers from asteroids or comets.

The agency’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, will impact asteroid Dimorphos at 7:14 p.m. ET on September 26.

The asteroid poses no threat to Earth.

DART will provide data to help Earth better prepare for an asteroid that could pose an impact hazard to Earth.

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Illustration of NASA’s DART spacecraft and the Italian Space Agency’s (ASI) LICIACube before impact in the Didymos binary system.
(Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben)

Dimorphos is the smallest small moon asteroid in the binary Didymos asteroid system, according to the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which is developing and leading the mission for NASA.

It has a diameter of 525 feet and orbits the larger asteroid Didymos.

The DART spacecraft will hit Dimorphos almost head-on. The collision will shorten the time it takes for the asteroid’s small moon to orbit Didymos by several minutes.

DART team members (from left) John Schellhase, Emory Toomey and Lloyd Ellis of APL inspect the radial line slot array (RLSA) antenna before it is installed on the spacecraft.

DART team members (from left) John Schellhase, Emory Toomey and Lloyd Ellis of APL inspect the radial line slot array (RLSA) antenna before it is installed on the spacecraft.
(Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman)

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The moment of impact when the distance between Earth and Didymos is minimized was chosen, to allow “telescopic observations of the highest quality”.

However, Didymos will still be approximately 11 million kilometers (about 6.8 million miles) from Earth, and the energy boost that DART delivers to Dimorphos is low.

The DART team at APL has spent the past month installing the spacecraft's electrical harness and subsystems on the panels, as well as testing the spacecraft's avionics and software for its body-maneuvering real-time autonomous navigation system. small (SMART Nav).

The DART team at APL has spent the past month installing the spacecraft’s electrical harness and subsystems on the panels, as well as testing the spacecraft’s avionics and software for its body-maneuvering real-time autonomous navigation system. small (SMART Nav).
(Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman)

NASA will cover the impact live on NASA TV and its social media platforms beginning at 6 pm ET.

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DART launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base in November.

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