NASA’s DART Spots Its Target Asteroid Ahead Of Collision


The “first-ever” mission to change the course of an asteroid is now under progress. Another first from NASA has just been released: a picture of the mission’s target asteroid taken by the spacecraft itself.
The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission of NASA is now traveling to the Didymos asteroid double system. This consists of the 160-meter Dimorphos, the DART mission’s goal, and the 780-meter Didymos. On September 26, the spacecraft would purposely collide with Dimorphos in order to “alter its orbit within the binary system.”
DART has got its first glimpse of its intended system. The Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical Navigation (DRACO) instrument’s image was released by the agency on Thursday.

In the image, one can see the Didymos system as a faint dot. According to the agency, the image is actually a composite of 243 images taken by DRACO on July 27, and they were taken from 20 million miles away from the spacecraft, which is why the system still doesn’t look quite clear.

The Didymos system is still quite weak from this distance—roughly 20 million miles from DART—and navigation camera scientists weren’t sure if DRACO would be able to see the asteroid yet. However, the scientists was able to improve it and uncover Didymos by combining the 243 photographs DRACO captured during this observation series.
As stated by Elena Adams, the DART mission systems engineer at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, “this first set of photos is being utilized as a test to confirm our imaging methodologies.” Although the image quality is comparable to that of what we could receive with ground-based telescopes, it is crucial to demonstrate that DRACO is operational and can see its target.
According to Julie Bellerose, the DART navigation lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, “we can iron out the optimal settings for DRACO and fine-tune the software” after seeing the DRACO photographs of Didymos for the first time. “We’ll fine-tune DART’s target by determining Didymos’ location with more specificity in September.”

 

The DART team will carry out three trajectory correction maneuvers over the next three weeks using observations made every five hours. Each movement will help to significantly lower the margin of error for the spacecraft’s needed trajectory to hit. The navigation team will be able to pinpoint the target Dimorphos’ location within two kilometers after the final maneuver on September 25, which will take place about 24 hours before impact. DART will thereafter be left to direct itself to its collision with the asteroid moonlet on its own.
Following that, Didymos was spotted by DRACO on August 12, August 13, and August 22 during scheduled observations.
As a project of the Planetary Missions Program Office of NASA, Johns Hopkins APL oversees the DART program on behalf of the agency’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office. DART, the first planetary defense test mission ever, deliberately impacts Dimorphos in order to slightly alter its motion through space. The DART mission will show that a spacecraft can travel to a kinetic impact on a relatively tiny asteroid autonomously and that this is a possible method to divert an asteroid from colliding with Earth if one is ever discovered, even though the asteroid poses no threat to Earth. DART will accomplish its goal on September 26, 2022.

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By: Miss Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter

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