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Predicting the Unpredictable—The Dynamics of DART’s Dive into an Asteroid

26 Jul 2020, 10:41 UTC
Predicting the Unpredictable—The Dynamics of DART’s Dive into an Asteroid
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Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft at Didymos. (Credit: NASA)

by Jeremy RehmJohns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory

LAUREL, Md. — In the fall of 2022, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft will reach its destination: asteroid Didymos and its small moonlet, named Dimorphos.

The mission, directed for NASA by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, is a hypervelocity test crash, a one-way trip to demonstrate a planetary defense strategy to thwart an asteroid from hitting Earth.

And Dimorphos, no bigger than a small football stadium, is the target.

At T-minus 45 minutes — DART can distinguish the two asteroids and starts collecting data, informing its autonomous navigation system — the APL-developed SMARTNav algorithm — to help direct itself toward the target.

T-minus two minutes — Only Dimorphos is in view.

T-minus 17 seconds — DART will see the surface in exquisite detail, producing images with resolutions of about 20 inches per pixel.

Five seconds — DART sends the last images back to Earth.

Four — DART’s cruising at about 14,800 mph, the surface coming closer.

Three — closer

Two — closer

One…

Boom!

Until the last moment before ...

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