Planetary Defense: NASA Prepares To Launch DART To Deflect Asteroid With Kinetic Impact

Members of the NASA Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) team have filled the spacecraft with fuel, conducted many final tests, and conducted trials as they approached the DART launch schedule on November 23, 2021.

DART will be the world’s first planetary defense test mission, heading to the asteroid Dimorphos, orbiting a larger companion asteroid Didymos, and deliberately hitting the asteroid to slightly change its orbit. Although no asteroid poses a threat to the earth, the kinetic energy impact of DART will prove that the spacecraft can autonomously navigate to the target asteroid and carry out a kinetic energy impact on it. Then, using ground-based telescopes to measure the impact of the impact on the asteroid system, the mission will enhance modeling and prediction capabilities to help us better prepare for the discovery of real asteroid threats.

POT Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson said: “DART will demonstrate for the first time the’kinetic impactor’ technology, in which a spacecraft deliberately collides with a known asteroid at high speed to change the asteroid’s motion in space.” “This technology is considered to be The most technologically mature method for mitigating potentially dangerous asteroids, it will help planetary defense experts improve computer models of powered asteroid impactors to gain insight into how we deflect near-Earth objects. Potentially dangerous in the future.”

DART Packed and Ready To Move to SpaceX
DART packed and ready to move to SpaceX. DART team members stand outside Astrotech Space Operations processing facility with the shipment container holding the DART spacecraft. DART moved to SpaceX’s payload processing facility late last month. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

Over the past year and a half, while following pandemic health and safety protocols, engineers have built DART from a series of fully assembled spacecraft parts. Engineers equipped the spacecraft with several technologies that the mission will test, including NASA’s NEXT-C ion propulsion system, which is designed to improve the performance and fuel efficiency of deep-space missions, and a High gain slotted flat antenna, used for communication between the earth and the spacecraft.

In the summer and early September, engineers installed the camera aboard the DRACO spacecraft (their only instrument), two deployed solar panels, each extended 28 feet, and the Italian Space Agency’s LICIACube microsatellite, intended to capture the dynamic impact of the DART image. and its direct consequences.

DART SpaceX Payload Processing Facility
After moving to SpaceX’s payload processing facility on Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, DART team members carefully removed the spacecraft from its shipping container and moved it to a low dolly. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

Elena Adams, DART mission system engineer at Johns Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), said: “The achievement of this team is a miracle because it encountered all obstacles such as COVID and developed so many New technology.” Laurel’s Hopkins University. , Maryland. “But the reason we have done this so far is because our team is very excited, it is very keen, and they really want to show that if the asteroid is close to the earth, we can avoid a disaster.”

The spacecraft arrived at Vandenberg Space Force Base (VSFB) near Lompoc, California in early October after an off-road trip. Since then, members of the DART team have been preparing the spacecraft for flight, testing the mechanical and electrical systems of the spacecraft, wrapping the end components in a multilayer insulation blanket, and practicing the launch sequence from on-site launch and mission operations. center.

DART entered SpaceX’s payload processing facility at VSFB on October 26. Two days later, the team was allowed to fill DART’s fuel tank with approximately 110 pounds (50 kg) of hydrazine propellant for spacecraft maneuvering and attitude control. DART also carries approximately 130 pounds (60 kg) of xenon for the NEXT-C ion engine. Engineers loaded xenon gas before the spacecraft left APL in early October.

DART Spacecraft Vandenberg Space Force Base
DART team members carefully lower the DART spacecraft onto a low dolly in SpaceX’s payload processing facility on Vandenberg Space Force Base. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

Starting on November 10th, engineers will “dock” the spacecraft to an adapter stacked on top of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The day before launch, the rocket will leave the hangar and arrive at the space launch pad. Launch Site 4 East (SLC-4E), where it will propel the spacecraft into space and begin the DART journey to the Didymos system.

“I am surprised and grateful that DART has gone from a flash in 11 years to a spacecraft that is the final preparation for launch,” said Andy Cheng, the head of the APL DART research team who came up with this idea. By darts. “What makes this possible is a great team. They overcome all the challenges of building spacecraft and do things that have never been done before.”

DART’s first launch opportunity is scheduled for November 23rd at 10:20 PM. PST. If weather or other problems prevent the first night of pitching, the team will have an additional opportunity to pitch the next day. If necessary, subsequent launch attempts can continue until February 2022.

Johns Hopkins APL has been assigned to manage the DART mission of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office as a project of the agency’s Planetary Mission Planning Office. The agency provides mission support from multiple centers, including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, Johnson Space Center in Houston, Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, and Hampton, Virginia The Langley Research Center. The launch is managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program, which is located at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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