NASA has delayed the launch of its first-ever planet defense mission in a bid to prevent a potentially dangerous asteroid from colliding with Earth.
Called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), the mission will send a spacecraft called Didimos in 2022 to test a crash into Earth’s binary asteroid system. NASA announced on February 17 that it would be launched in the opening window from July 21st of this year. 24 Now there is no choice. Instead, the space agency is targeting the B Nov Cup window which is Nov 24. Opens 24 and runs through February 15, 2022, NASA said in a statement.
The senior leadership of the NASA Science Mission Directorate (SMD) has decided to postpone the launch after a risk assessment of the DART project schedule. The delay in launching the mission will not affect the spacecraft’s arrival at its target, which is scheduled for October 2022, NASA officials said.
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Recent risk assessments have revealed technical issues with the spacecraft’s two main components, including its main instrument, the Didymos reconnaissance and asteroid camera for terrestrial-navigation (DRACA), and its roll-out solar array (Rosa). Draco Imager needs to be pressured to make sure it can withstand launching, while the solar array is delayed due to supply chain issues caused by the COVID-19 epidemic.
“At NASA, mission success and safety are of paramount importance, and after a risk assessment, it became clear that DART will not be able to launch safely and securely in the primary launch window,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, SMD’s associate administrator. Zurbuchen said in a statement. “To ensure the dart is ready for mission success, NASA instructed the team to follow the launch opportunity as soon as possible to test Droca during the secondary launch window and give Rosa more time to deliver and provide a safe working environment through the COVID-19 epidemic.”
The Dart spacecraft will land on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base. NASA is working with SpaceX and the agency’s launch services program to identify the earliest possible launch opportunity in this secondary window.
The DRTT will target a binary asteroid system consisting of a giant planet called Didimos, about 2,540 feet (775 meters) wide, and a small asteroid satellite called Dimorphos, measuring around 540 feet (165 meters). The mission will test new planetary defense technology, which requires the spacecraft to slam into the deformos to change the speed of the planet’s orbit by dynamic impact. If successful, this technique could be used to remove asteroids that are dangerous to Earth.
“While COVID-19 was not the only factor for this delay, it has been an important and critical contributing factor to multiple issues,” NASA officials said in a statement. “Testing equipment before launch in all missions is a crucial step in ensuring mission success, and project teams build time into the process schedule to accommodate potential delays.”
NASA’s DART mission will also house a small satellite called the Light Italian Cubeset for Imaging As Asteroids or LICIACube, built by the Italian Space Agency to see the impact in Demorphos and return images of the event to Earth. The European Space Agency is also planning a follow-up mission to Dimorphos, also known as Hera, which will evaluate the results of the dart mission and study the impact site on the asteroid. Hera’s mission is expected to begin in 2023 or 2024 and reach the asteroid two years later.
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