NASA Conducts First Planetary Defense Test


NASA wrapped up its first-ever planetary defense technology demonstration on Monday evening, crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid with the goal of altering its orbit. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) targeted the asteroid Dimorphos, which measures 530 feet (160 meters) in diameter and orbits a larger asteroid named Didymos. The 1,260-pound (570-kilogram) spacecraft hit the asteroid at about 14,000 miles (22,530 kilometers) per hour. The test was conducted to demonstrate “a viable mitigation technique for protecting the planet from an Earth-bound asteroid or comet.” Managed by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), DART was launched in Nov. 2021.

“This first-of-its-kind mission required incredible preparation and precision, and the team exceeded expectations on all counts,” said APL Director Ralph Semmel. “Beyond the truly exciting success of the technology demonstration, capabilities based on DART could one day be used to change the course of an asteroid to protect our planet and preserve life on Earth as we know it.”

NASA noted that DART confirmed that it can “successfully navigate a spacecraft to intentionally collide with an asteroid to deflect it.” Images of the crash were captured by a CubeSat provided by the Italian Space Agency that was deployed from the spacecraft fifteen days before impact. NASA also plans to monitor Dimorphos with ground-based telescopes to confirm that its orbit around Didymos has been altered and measure how much it was deflected by the impact.

Kate O'Connor
Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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  1. The DART mission will certainly provide tons of valuable scientific data about asteroids. NASA hopes to be able to measure a slight change to Dimorphos’s orbit around Didymos. But calling it a planetary defense is like calling the Wright Flyer an air force.

  2. One cannot downplay the amount of technical prowess and dtermination it takes to accomplish a successful intercept collision at this distance with the variables involved. And with the benevolent mission to save the Earth from a future asteroid collision. A serious application of science here and not to be taken lightly. Then again. Asteroid? Looks like a big corn pone hushpuppy to me.