NASA is preparing an ambitious test mission to see if it’s capable of deflecting an incoming asteroid that, if left unchecked, would imperil Earth.
The space agency wants to examine whether it’s possible to knock threatening space rocks off their trajectory to prevent the fiery annihilation of all we hold dear, and has signalled it will move forward with the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) – escalating the mission from concept development to the preliminary design phase.
The test – slated to take place in 2024 – would be a first-of-its-kind drill, demonstrating whether the kind of planet-saving heroics of sci-fi blockbusters like Armageddon are in fact a realistic proposition to defend Earth from potentially devastating surface impacts.
“DART would be NASA’s first mission to demonstrate what’s known as the kinetic impactor technique– striking the asteroid to shift its orbit – to defend against a potential future asteroid impact,”says NASA’s planetary defence officer Lindley Johnson.
“This approval step advances the project toward an historic test with a non-threatening small asteroid.”
Announced just after Asteroid Day (June 30) – an annual event run by scientists to raise public awareness of the dangers Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) pose – the mission phase will ramp up preparations to intercept an asteroid binary system called Didymos with the DART spacecraft, as pictured in the animation above.
Didymos was discovered in 1996, and is composed of two rocky bodies – a large asteroid (Didymos A) measuring approximately 780 metres (2,560 ft) across, and a smaller object (Didymos B) about 160 metres (525 ft) in size.
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