International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

NASA’s DART mission to hit and deflect an Asteroid


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: DART Mission

Mains level: Not Much

NASA will launch the agency’s first planetary defense test mission named the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART).

What is DART Mission?

  • The main aim of the mission is to test the newly developed technology that would allow a spacecraft to crash into an asteroid and change its course.
  • It is a suicide mission and the spacecraft will be completely destroyed.
  • The target of the spacecraft is a small moonlet called Dimorphos (Greek for “two forms”).
  • It is about 160-metre in diameter and the spacecraft is expected to collide when it is 11 million kilometres away from Earth.
  • Dimorphos orbits a larger asteroid named Didymos (Greek for “twin”) which has a diameter of 780 metres.

Is there any threat from this asteroid?

  • The asteroid and the moonlet do not pose any threat to Earth and the mission is to test the new technology to be prepared in case an asteroid head towards Earth in the future.
  • The spacecraft will navigate to the moonlet and intentionally collide with it at a speed of about 6.6 kilometres per second or 24,000 kilometres per hour.

Why Dimorphos?

  • Didymos is a perfect system for the test mission because it is an eclipsing binary which means it has a moonlet that regularly orbits the asteroid.
  • It is observable when it passes in front of the main asteroid.
  • Earth-based telescopes can study this variation in brightness to understand how long it takes Dimorphos to orbit Didymos.

How big is the spacecraft?

  • NASA states that DART is a low-cost spacecraft, weighing around 610 kg at launch and 550 kg during impact.
  • The main structure is a box (1.2 × 1.3 × 1.3 metres). It has two solar arrays and uses hydrazine propellant for manoeuvring the spacecraft.


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