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

Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) Illustration

Illustration of the DART spacecraft. Credit: NASA

Team members of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) have filled the spacecraft with fuel, have performed many of the final tests, and are running rehearsals as they approach DART’s scheduled launch on November 23, 2021.

DART will be the world’s first planetary defense test mission, heading for the small moonlet asteroid Dimorphos, which orbits a larger companion asteroid called Didymos, and intentionally crashing into the asteroid to slightly change its orbit. While neither asteroid poses a threat to Earth, DART’s kinetic impact will prove that a spacecraft can autonomously navigate to a target asteroid and kinetically impact it. Then, using Earth-based telescopes to measure the effects of the impact on the asteroid system, the mission will enhance modeling and predictive capabilities to help us better prepare for an actual asteroid threat should one ever be discovered.

“DART will be the first demonstration of the ‘kinetic impactor’ technique in which a spacecraft deliberately collides with a known asteroid at high speed to change the asteroid’s motion in space,” said Lindley Johnson, NASA’s Planetary Defense Officer. “This technique is thought to be the most technologically mature approach for mitigating a potentially hazardous asteroid, and it will help planetary defense experts refine asteroid kinetic impactor computer models, giving insight into how we could deflect potentially dangerous near-Earth objects 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 last year and a half, while following pandemic health and safety protocols, engineers built DART from a collection of parts to a fully assembled spacecraft. Engineers outfitted the spacecraft with the various technologies that the mission will test, including NASA’s NEXT-C ion propulsion system that was designed to improve performance and fuel efficiency for deep-space missions, and a flat, slotted high-gain antenna for efficient communication between Earth and the spacecraft.

During the summer and early September, engineers installed the spacecraft’s onboard camera DRACO (its only instrument), its two roll-out solar arrays that each unfurl to 28 feet, and the Italian Space Agency’s miniature satellite LICIACube that is designed to capture images of DART’s kinetic impact and its immediate aftereffects.

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

“It’s a miracle what this team has accomplished, with all of the obstacles in the way like COVID-19 and the development of so many new technologies,” said Elena Adams, DART mission systems engineer at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. “But the reason why we succeeded so far is because our team is excited, extremely sharp, and they genuinely want to show that if an asteroid was coming toward Earth, we could prevent a catastrophe.”

The spacecraft arrived at Vandenberg Space Force Base (VSFB) near Lompoc, California, in early October after a cross-country drive. DART team members have since been preparing the spacecraft for flight, testing the spacecraft’s mechanisms and electrical system, wrapping the final parts in multilayer insulation blankets, and practicing the launch sequence from both the launch site and the mission operations center at APL.

DART headed to the SpaceX Payload Processing Facility on VSFB on October 26. Two days later, the team received the green light to fill DART’s fuel tank with roughly 110 pounds (50 kilograms) of hydrazine propellant for spacecraft maneuvers and attitude control. DART also carries about 130 pounds (60 kilograms) of xenon for the NEXT-C ion engine. Engineers loaded the xenon 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 10, engineers will “mate” the spacecraft to the adapter that stacks on top of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. A day before launch, the rocket will roll out of the hangar and onto the launch pad at Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E), where it will propel the spacecraft into space and kick off DART’s journey to the Didymos system.

“I’m both amazed and grateful that DART has gone from a twinkle in the eye to a spacecraft in final preparation for launch within 11 years,” said Andy Cheng, DART investigation team lead at APL and the one who came up with the idea of DART. “What made it possible was a great team that overcame all the challenges of building a spacecraft to do something never done before.”

DART’s first launch opportunity is scheduled for November 23 at 10:20 p.m. PST. If weather or other issues prevent a launch on the first night, the team will have an additional opportunity to launch the next day. If necessary, subsequent launch attempts can take place through February 2022.

Johns Hopkins APL has been directed to manage the DART mission for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office as a project of the agency’s Planetary Missions Program Office. The agency provides support for the mission from several 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 Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. The launch is managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

4 Comments on "Planetary Defense: NASA Prepares To Launch DART To Deflect Asteroid With Kinetic Impact"

  1. Babu G. Ranganathan | November 5, 2021 at 7:28 am | Reply

    Babu G. Ranganathan*
    (B.A. Bible/Biology)


    In the Earth’s past there were powerful volcanic explosions propelling millions of tons of earth soil and rock into space (many of which are now asteroids and meteors and which may contain organic molecules and organisms). Read my popular Internet article, ANY LIFE ON MARS CAME FROM EARTH. The article explains how millions of tons of Earth soil may exist on Mars, and how debris we call asteroids, meteors, and comets (some even containing the chemical building blocks of life) could have originated from Earth.

    According to a Newsweek article of September 21, 1998, p. 12 that quotes a USC professor and scientist, there may be SEVEN MILLION tons of Earth soil on Mars!

    Even if the right chemicals exist, life cannot arise by chance. The molecules that make-up life have to be in a sequence, just like the letters found in a sentence.

    Once you have a complete and living cell then the genetic code and biological machinery exist to direct the formation of more cells, but how could life or the cell have naturally originated when no directing code and mechanisms existed in nature? Read my Internet article: HOW FORENSIC SCIENCE REFUTES ATHEISM.

    Regarding comets, scientist and creationist, Dr. Brian Thomas explains:

    “Astronomers measure comets’ masses and erosion rates to calculate potential lifespans. Sun grazing comets last fewer than 100,000 years.2 They thus confront secular astronomy which maintains that comets formed with the rest of the solar system billions of years ago. A solar system that old should have no remaining comets.

    How do secularists solve this dilemma?

    Reporting on Ison, The Independent said, “Comet Ison has taken millions of years to reach us travelling from the so-called Oort cloud – a reservoir of trillions and trillions of chunks of rock and ice, leftovers from the birth of the planets.”3

    Unfortunately, nobody has yet witnessed a single one of those “trillions and trillions of chunks.” Going strictly with observational science, the “so-called Oort cloud” may exist only in the reservoir of the human mind.

    Clearly, secular astronomers invented the Oort cloud to rescue their billions-of-years dogma from a disintegration process that limits a comet’s age—and thus the age of the Solar System—to thousands of years. When Ison becomes visible later this year, perhaps it will remind thoughtful viewers that the universe is quite young, just as Scripture teaches” (Brian Thomas, M.S., Science Writer at the Institute for Creation research).

    Read scientist and creationist Brian Thomas’ Internet article, EXOCOMETS: EVIDENCE OF RECENT CREATION

    Check out my most recent Internet articles and sites: THE SCIENCE SUPPORTING CREATION and WAR AMONG EVOLUTIONISTS (2nd Edition)


    *I have given successful lectures (with question and answer period afterwards) defending creation before evolutionist science faculty and students at various colleges and universities. I’ve been privileged to be recognized in the 24th edition of Marquis “Who’s Who in The East” for my writings on religion and science.

  2. Thanks for saving us Dallas Area Rapid Transit… Texans never receive the respect they deserve.

  3. The greatest threat to the planet are the scientists who freely tamper with that which they have little understanding about, strutting the earth like roosters, so self important… and it appears also to be completely above the law.. we little people are not consulted… and we reject your projects that have little value. Cease and desist until you can figure out how to put out a simple wildfire.

  4. I’d be less concerned with scientists than with politicians & bureaucrats.

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