The world faces many terrestrial crises right now, so it’s easy to forget that giant space rocks may one day threaten the very existence of entire civilizations. Yes, the threat of asteroid strikes is a remote one, but nevertheless something humanity may have to face one day, and one day soon.

NASA takes the issue seriously, and has staffed its Planetary Defence Coordination Office since 2016. In service to these efforts, it’s also developing a mission to research how dangerous androids may be deflected. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, is set to launch within the next year.

A graphic outlining the basics of the DART mission. The DART spacecraft intends to impact the Dimorphos asteroid, changing its rotational period around Didymos, while the LICIACube satellite images the impact event.

DART aims to change the path of an asteroid through kinetic impact, or, in layman’s terms, by smashing into it. The craft will target Didymos, a binary asteroid system consisting of Didymos itself and the smaller asteroid Dimorphos in orbit around it. The asteroid will pass near Earth, at a distance of 11 million kilometres, without being on a collision trajectory, making it a good candidate for humanity’s first attempt at asteroid deflection.

Didymos, the larger asteroid of the pair measures 780 meters in diameter, while Dimorphos is significantly smaller at just 160 meters across. The DART craft will aim to hit Dimorphos head on, and in doing so, reduce its orbital period around Didymos. This change in the orbit will be measured from observatories on Earth in order to gauge the success of the mission.

The main body of the DART spacecraft measures just 1.2 x 1.3 x 1.3 meters, and the craft as a whole weighs approximately 500 kg. DART is intended to impact Dimorphos at a speed of 6.6 km/s. In doing so, it will alter the orbital period by 4.2 minutes, from 11.9 to 11.8 hours. The change in the orbital period is expected to be on the order of 10 minutes or so. It may not sound like a big change, but the hope is that over millions of kilometers, it will add up to a significant shift in the original trajectory of the asteroid system.

The roll-up solar wings that will power DART are similar to those recently installed on the International Space Station.

The DART mission will also serve to trial several innovative technologies. New to the project are the Roll Out Solar Arrays, or ROSA. These flexible solar panels can be rolled up for launch, and…

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