NASA, announced that it successfully concluded it’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) by flying the craft straight into into Dimorphos, the minor-planet moon of the asteroid Didymos.
The mission was the first step in testing a method of planetary defense against near-Earth objects (NEOs).
DART is the result of a joint project between NASA and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) but has had input from the a host of International partners like the European Space Agency (ESA), Italian Space Agency (ASI), and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
The DART spacecraft itself is an impactor with a mass of 610 kg (1,340 lb) that hosted no scientific payload and had only sensors for navigation; a sun sensor, a star tracker called SMART Nav software (Small-body Maneuvering Autonomous Real Time Navigation) and a 20 cm (7.9 in) aperture camera called Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation (DRACO).
The amazing footage of DARTs impact was capture by its companion craft, LICIACube. The Italian Space Agency (ASI) created LICIACube (Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids) as a small CubeSat which piggybacked with DART and separated 15 days before impact.
Not only did LICIACube capture the impact but it will now acquire images of the impact and ejecta using its two optical cameras, dubbed LUKE and LEIAas, as it drifts past the asteroid as it continues to communicate directly with Earth.
On 26 September 2022 at 23:14 UTC the spacecraft hit Dimorphos in the direction opposite to the asteroid’s motion.
The main goal of the mission is now to find out now is how much that impact will effect the orbital speed of Dimorphos and if, as expected, it has dropped slightly. This data is critical for future missions if we need to deflect asteroids that might be on course to hit Earth.
There is however important secondary data to gather as DART impact will have thrown up large amounts of surface/subsurface materials from Dimorphos. This data will allow space scientists to better understand the formation of craters and composition of the asteroid.
LICIACube will collect this initial data, but NASA intend to follow up the mission with detailed reconnaissance and assessment provided by a new spacecraft called Hera which is scheduled to arrive in December 2026.
DART Impact in images
NASA has released a series of images that countdown DARTS mission to impact.
27 July 2022, 24,000,000 miles – The DRACO camera detects the Didymos system.
26 September 2022 19:14 UTC ( 4 hours to go ), 14,000 miles – The DRACO camera detects Dimorphos.
26 September 2022 23:10 UTC ( 4 minutes to go ), 930 miles – Start of final course correction.
26 September 2022 23:11 UTC ( 2 minutes 30 seconds to go ), 570 miles – Last image with both Didymos, left, and Dimorphos in frame.
26 September 2022 23:14 UTC ( 11 seconds to go ), 42 miles – Last image of all of Dimorphos in frame.
26 September 2022 23:14 UTC ( 3 seconds to go ), 11 miles
26 September 2022 23:14 UTC ( 2 seconds to go ), 7.5 miles – Last complete image file
26 September 2022 23:14 UTC ( 1 seconds to go ), 3.7 miles – Last data transmitted… transmission stopped by impact.