NASA Plans to crash spacecraft into an asteroid in 'Armageddon-style' planetary defence test

NASA has spoken about its future plans to send a spacecraft crashing into an asteroid at 15,000mph to attempt to change its path in the first "planetary defence" test by the US space agency.

NASA to crash into asteroid
NASA is planning on crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid in the hope of changing its trajectory

NASA has just announced that it plans to fire a spacecraft at an asteroid at around 15,000mph to attempt to change its flight path, they have called this the first "planetary defence" test.

The mission, known as a Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), will be the Nasa’s “first use of the kinetic impactor technique” in which “a large, high-speed spacecraft is sent into an asteroid’s path to change its motion".

NASA has labelled this mission "the first test for planetary defence", and plans on sending the spacecraft on a collision course "to hit the binary near-Earth asteroid Didymos and its moonlet, Dimorphos" on 24 November this year.

The aim of the mission is said to "assess if it is possible to divert an incoming celestial body", in the hope that we can "avoid a mass extinction event like the one that wipes out the dinosaurs, and most life on Earth, 66 million years ago".

Scientists have already identified at least 26,000 "near=Earth objects", 4,700 of which meet NASAs classification as "potentially hazardous objects".

These are objects in space at are "larger than 500ft across, pass within 4.7 million miles of our planet, and would cause devastating damaged if they hit".

The Didymos system, the target for the DART test, is made up of two bodies. Didymos, the primary body, is roughly 780 metres across, whilst its moonlet is about 160 metres in diameter.

NASA is hoping to hit the moonlet, which is "more typical of the size of asteroids that could pose the most likely significant threat to Earth".

“We’re going to make sure that a rock from space doesn’t send us back to the Stone Age,” Thomas Statler, a Nasa scientist, said on the agency’s podcast. The mission is one of “historical proportions”, Statler added, because it will be “the first time that humanity has actually changed something in space”.

“We’ve left footprints and tire tracks and things like that, but this will be the first time humanity has changed a celestial motion.”

It’s all “reminiscent of the 1998 sci-fi action movie ‘Armageddon’”, says CBS News, “in which the space agency deploys a team of civilians to land on an asteroid and detonate it before it destroys Earth”.

But while the “basic idea” is the same, “neither Didymos nor Dimorphos pose a threat to Earth”. The mission is simply “so that scientists can calculate how effective DART missions can be”.

While the pair of asteroids “orbit the sun and occasionally come close to Earth”, they never come close enough to pose a threat, said The Washington Post. But their proximity makes them “a prime candidate” for testing the technique that could one day save the planet.

The DART mission plans to hit Dimorphos at a speed of nearly 15,000mph in the hope it will change its orbit “by a fraction of 1 percent”. This would be a “small but significant enough change” that scientists should be able to see it from their telescopes on Earth.

If an asteroid was on course to hit the Earth, the space agency would plan to hit it and change its course, rather than destroy it completely.

The DART spacecraft will be aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. After separation from the launch vehicle, the DART spacecraft will cruise in space for ten months before intercepting Didymos’ moonlet in late September 2022, when the Didymos system is within 11 million kilometres of Earth.

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