NASA’s attempt to knock an asteroid off course is not a movie, but a real planetary defense test mission that began to unfold with Wednesday's successful launch.
The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft lifted off at 1:21 ET a.m. Wednesday atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Replays are available on the agency’s website.
DART is designed to impact an asteroid at 15,000 miles an hour in fall 2022. The target is an asteroid moon Dimorphos, which orbits larger asteroid Didymos. The Didymos couplet is considered an ideal target for DART because it poses no impact threat to Earth. Scientists expect to measure the change in its orbit via ground-based telescopes.
Lindley Johnson, NASA’s Planetary Defense Officer, called the demo collision a “kinetic impactor” technique which is the “most technologically mature approach for mitigating a potentially hazardous asteroid.” Johnson said the demonstration will help planetary defense experts refine asteroid models to better deflect potentially dangerous near-Earth objects down the road.
The entire cost of DART is about $330 million, Johnson told Voice of America.