The NASA team is confident that it will successfully kill its DART spacecraft after an asteroid collision

Hearing the phrase “loss of signal” is usually associated with bad news, and it will be cause for celebration for the team behind NASA’s DART spacecraft scheduled to hit an asteroid on Monday.

Most of NASA’s spacecraft are in the past years or even decades but not the mission of testing the double asteroid redirection. This space robot has a date with death.

NASA’s Planetary Defense Administrator Lindley Johnson told reporters Thursday he was “very confident” that DART would achieve its goal and be successful.

After launching last fall with SpaceX, the device-sized spacecraft has been chasing the binary asteroid system Didymos to test a game plan to save Earth when a giant space rock heads toward our planet. The method known as kinetic collider theory involves using DART as a 15,000-mph ram and smashing it into moonlit Dimorphos, which orbit the larger asteroid Didymos.

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About 4 hours before impact, DART will operate independently of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which runs the mission for NASA, Elena Adams explains.

Using a relative navigation system called SMART Nav, the DART will focus on Didymos about an hour before impact, and then slowly, the focus will be on smaller Dimorphos. The spacecraft will return images at a rate of about one image per second.

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“You’ll hear us say, ‘We’re a subtle lock,’ which means we’re now starting to ignore Didymos, and we’re going to Dimorphos…then in the two-and-a-half minutes before the Smart NAV effect… it’ll turn off, and we’ll just point the camera and take the most amazing pictures of this asteroid that’s We’ll see him for the first time,” Adams said.

Dimorphos, which are only about 530 feet wide, won’t be in full focus and clarity until moments before impact. The last image will be taken about 2.5 seconds before DART flies into the asteroid. Due to the 8-second delay from the DART signal to Earth, the images will continue to arrive at the Mission Operations Center in Maryland.

While I will DART send photos back to the end, Its companion satellite, a small Italian CubeSat called LICIACube, will fly past the asteroid and continue to send back images in the days and months following the collision. The James Webb Space Telescope, ground-based observatories and other spacecraft will also be able to observe the impact of the asteroid from a distance.

Tom Statler, an NSA DART scientist, says the team has a good idea of ​​what happens when a spacecraft lands on an asteroid due to NASA and JSA missions to other asteroids.

“We know Dimorphos will discontinue DART for one reason,” Statler said. “The density of the DART spacecraft is actually not much different from that of an asteroid. So there’s no doubt that DART will hit a whole lot of material that just can’t get out of the way.”

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DART will not change the orbit of Didymus. It aims to change the speed of the young moon, Dimorphos, by just a tiny bit.

“We’re moving an asteroid,” Statler said. “We’re changing the motion of a normal celestial body in space.” “Humanity has never done this before… This is the stuff of science fiction.”

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Edward Reynolds, director of the DART project, said he’s not losing sleep over the oncoming impact because the team has run simulations and tested the spacecraft’s navigation since launch, but that doesn’t mean a 100-meter-diameter asteroid collision at 14,000 miles per hour isn’t difficult. a task.

“We do things because they are difficult,” Reynolds said. “We are at the point where technology emerges so we can use these emerging technologies to protect ourselves from these threats.” “I think we’ve prepared ourselves for this moment, but I don’t worry about the spacecraft. Don’t worry about the algorithm.”

If DART does its job, it will stop sending a signal after 7 PM ET on Monday.

And then we’ll celebrate,” Adams said.

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