DART Team Takes a Last Look at Asteroid Target Before Launch

NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) will be the first demonstration of a kinetic impactor: a spacecraft that will deliberately strike an asteroid at high speed to change the object’s motion in space. Launching in 2021, the DART mission is designed to demonstrate this critical planetary defense capability. With less than a year until launch, DART is currently coming together at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.

Understanding Dimorphos' Behavior

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Mike Yakovlev

When the observation campaign wraps up in February of this year, the DART team hopes to have a better understanding of Dimorphos’ behavior.

The final observations will also help determine the spacecraft’s approach in 2022.

“We need to understand the orbit of Dimorphos better than we know it now so that we can target the timing of DART’s arrival,” said Rivkin.

“We would like to hit Dimorphos head on, but also need to take into account the time of day on Earth for reasons of communications with [the spacecraft]. DART will only be carrying a limited amount of fuel, so it won’t be able to change its arrival time by too much after launch, so we need to decide the arrival time in the next couple of months. That means we need to improve our knowledge of Dimorphos’ orbit now.”

The investigation team will plan for follow-up observations after impact to see just how much DART effectively changed Dimorphos’ orbit around Didymos.

“Though DART will meet its fate by ramming into Dimorphos and it’ll essentially be the end of the spacecraft, it will be just the start of the science,” said Rivkin.

Learn more about DART and follow the mission here.