SpaceX will launch a first-of-its-kind ‘planetary defence’ mission for Nasa early Wednesday (November 24), sending the spacecraft on its way to intentionally crash into an asteroid.
“We’re smashing into an asteroid,” Nasa launch services programme senior launch director Omar Baez said during a press conference. “I can’t believe we’re doing that”
Known as the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (or DART) mission, the space agency is trying to learn “how to deflect a threat that would come” towards Earth, Nasa associate administrator of the science mission directorate Thomas Zurbuchen said.
“Rest assured, that rock right now is not a threat,” he said.
SpaceX will launch DART on a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.
DART is a 610-kg spacecraft that will travel 10 months to a pair of asteroids, Didymos and Dimorphos. Dimorphos is about the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza, while the Didymos asteroid is wider in diameter than the One World Trade Center tower in New York City is tall. After arriving at the asteroids, and before it smashes into Dimorphos, the DART spacecraft will deploy a small cube satellite to take photos of the impact event.
The goal of the mission is to hit the smaller of the two asteroids, Dimorphos, with the spacecraft at about 15,000 miles per hour and see how the impact changes the asteroid’s trajectory.
The DART mission cost Nasa about $330 million in total, with SpaceX having won a $69 million contract in 2019 for the launch. It is NASA’s first planetary defence mission, and also represents SpaceX’s first mission launching a spacecraft to another planetary body.
“This is just the coolest mission. Thank you all for enabling SpaceX to be a part of a really important planetary defense mission,” SpaceX director of civil satellite missions Julianna Scheiman said during a press conference.