NASA to launch spaceship to ‘punch’ asteroid, stop future impacts, The DART Mission’s spacecraft’s launch window is set for July 2021, and will arrive at the asteroid in September 2022.
If an asteroid heads towards Earth, what can we possibly do to stop it from impacting the planet?
According to NASA: Punch it.
Stopping an asteroid impact is something that has been tossed around in both serious scientific discussions and in many pieces of science fiction. However, solutions proposed and displayed have varied.
NASA to launch spaceship to ‘punch’ asteroid, stop future impacts
But NASA scientists actually have a plan in place to “punch” an asteroid away, or rather, have a spaceship collide with it head-on.
The concept seems ridiculous, almost like an April Fool’s Day joke. But the project is very real, and is well into planning and development phase.
The project is known as the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) Mission, and has been developed by NASA and John Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory along with several NASA centers.
The technology involved, as detailed on NASA’s website, includes what they call the “kinetic impactor” technique, which should be able to change an asteroid’s motion in space.
How it works is that the spacecraft will crash straight into an asteroid at a speed of around 6.6 kilometers per second. This should force the asteroid to change the speed of its orbit. It will only change it by a fraction of a percent, but it is enough to be observed and measured by astronomers with telescopes.
The craft’s launch window is set to first open in late July, and will be launched by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It will then fly off into space for its first test in the Didymos asteroid system. It is expected that mankind’s first battle of fisticuffs against an asteroid will take place in September 2022, when the craft will arrive in the system.
“Up until now, we haven’t had too many options for what we might do if we found something that was incoming,” APL astronomer and DART investigation team leader Andy Rivkin told Vice News.
“DART is the first test of how we might be able to deflect something without having to resort to a nuclear package, or sitting in our basements, waiting it out, and crossing our fingers.”
The nuclear option Rivkin referred to is among the most commonly seen methods of asteroid destruction in popular culture. Essentially, it would see nuclear weapons be used to blast the asteroid apart.
The idea is very spectacular to think about, and makes for an impressive visual for science fiction films. In real life, however, the idea is at best, not ideal, and at worst, potentially catastrophic. This is because destroying an asteroid will result in the formation of smaller rocks, still likely heading towards the planet. If they get through Earth’s atmosphere, the damage they could cause would still be severe.
The DART project is more subtle, nudging the asteroid with a softer jab rather than an explosive nuke.
Of course, it is highly unlikely an asteroid will approach Earth anytime soon. In fact, NASA had recently declared the Earth completely risk-free from asteroid impacts for the next 100 years.
Rivkin acknowledged this, and told Vice that really, scientists just want to see what happens, telling the news outlet: “If asteroids are to keep you awake at night, let it be with excitement about how cool they are, and not concern.”