The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission is directed by NASA to the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory with support from several NASA centers: the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Goddard Space Flight Center, Johnson Space Center, Glenn Research Center, and Langley Research Center.
DART is a planetary defense-driven test of technologies for preventing an impact of Earth by a hazardous asteroid. DART will be the first demonstration of the kinetic impactor technique to change the motion of an asteroid in space. The DART mission is led by APL and managed under NASA’s Solar System Exploration Program at Marshall Space Flight Center for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office and the Science Mission Directorate’s Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC.
DART is a spacecraft designed to impact an asteroid as a test of technology. DART’s target asteroid is NOT a threat to Earth. This asteroid system is a perfect testing ground to see if intentionally crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid is an effective way to change its course, should an Earth-threatening asteroid be discovered in the future. While no known asteroid larger than 140 meters in size has a significant chance to hit Earth for the next 100 years, only about 40 percent of those asteroids have been found as of October 2021.
The binary near-Earth asteroid (65803) Didymos is the target for the DART demonstration. While the Didymos primary body is approximately 780 meters across, its secondary body (or “moonlet”) is about 160-meters in size, which is more typical of the size of asteroids that could pose the most likely significant threat to Earth. The Didymos binary is being intensely observed using telescopes on Earth to precisely measure its properties before DART arrives.
The DART spacecraft will achieve the kinetic impact deflection by deliberately crashing itself into the moonlet at a speed of approximately 6.6 km/s, with the aid of an onboard camera (named DRACO) and sophisticated autonomous navigation software. The collision will change the speed of the moonlet in its orbit around the main body by a fraction of one percent, but this will change the orbital period of the moonlet by several minutes – enough to be observed and measured using telescopes on Earth.
Once launched, DART will deploy Roll Out Solar Arrays (ROSA) to provide the solar power needed for DART’s electric propulsion system. The DART spacecraft will demonstrate the NASA Evolutionary Xenon Thruster – Commercial (NEXT-C)solar electric propulsion system as part of its in-space propulsion. NEXT-C is a next-generation system based on the Dawn spacecraft propulsion system, and was developed at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. By utilizing electric propulsion, DART could benefit from significant flexibility to the mission timeline while demonstrating the next generation of ion engine technology, with applications to potential future NASA missions.
Courtesy of NASA