NASA prepares the DART mission to deflect an asteroid

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A mission will launch next month to slam into a tiny asteroid and slightly speed up its orbit. DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) is ’s first foray into active planetary defense. DART will test one technique, referred to as a kinetic impactor, for that last step by slamming into the smaller moon of an asteroid. Planetary defense comes in two phases. The first requires searching the skies for as many space rocks as possible, then tracking asteroids closely enough that scientists can model trajectories and compare them to Earth’s orbit long into the future. Scientists have identified more than 27,000 near-Earth asteroids, of which nearly 10,000 are larger than 460 feet (140 meters) across, the size at which experts worry that space rocks could cause major regional damage. DART is a $330 million mission.

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It will launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California probably on Wednesday (Nov. 24) at 1:20 a.m. EST. Launch opportunities continue through February 2022. A cubesat flying with DART will monitor the spacecraft’s fatal collision for mission personnel on Earth. The test is designed to help scientists understand how much momentum is needed to deflect an asteroid in the event one is headed towards Earth one day.The Earth faces no an immediate danger.