In an effort to develop defences against incoming asteroids in space, NASA has announced a planned test of its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft.
The technology will be used to target an asteroid on Monday, September 26 at 12:14am BST. This is an asteroid that will pose no threat to Earth making it a safe way to test DART.
The planned test will show whether a spacecraft is able to autonomously navigate to a target asteroid and intentionally collide with it. By doing this, DART could change the asteroid’s direction while being measured by ground-based telescopes.
Along with being a solution to incoming asteroids and general large-scale threats to Earth, DART would also be providing important data to help us get prepared for any future asteroids that might pose a serious hazard to Earth.
While there are billions of asteroids and comets that orbit our sun, very few of them are actually hazardous to Earth. By testing DART and using it to perform research on asteroids, NASA and other international space agencies hope to better prepare for any future asteroid collision possibilities.
DART is a spacecraft that was built and will be operated by the John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. The method of the spacecraft colliding with an an asteroid is known as kinetic impact deflection and is one of several options for dealing with potentially dangerous asteroids.
After the test impact is complete, the team behind the spacecraft will measure how much the asteroid is deflected away from Earth using telescopes. While scientists could create artificial mini-impacts in labs to predict asteroids, a real-life test would better account for the unpredictable nature of asteroids and space.