NASA is about to launch a satellite at an asteroid

Starting November 23, the historic DART mission, NASA's first interplanetary defense mission: it will strike an asteroid to change its orbit

The Solar System is more crowded than you might think: not only are there the many traces of human activity in space wandering above Earth's atmosphere, but also celestial bodies crossing our corner of the sky to continue their journey into deep space.

Although the danger of an imminent asteroid impact is virtually nil, at least for the next hundred years, NASA is preparing for every eventuality and will launch its first interplanetary defense mission, DART, on Nov. 23.

What is DART

DART stands for Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or binary asteroid reorientation test, and is directed toward a pair of so-called near-Earth asteroids, meaning those whose orbits are close to Earth's.

The main body is called Didymos, and is an asteroid of about 750 meters in size around which orbits the smaller Dimorphos, also called Didymoon by astronomers, which completes its orbit around the main body in just under 12 hours.

The plan of NASA is clear and simple: send a satellite against Dimorphos to hit it, alter its speed by about 1% and thus change its orbit. If all goes according to plan, the "displacement" of the asteroid will be observable even by telescopes on Earth: at the time of impact, in fact, the binary asteroid will be only 11 million kilometers from our planet.

The DART mission will depart from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California aboard a SpaceX Falcon9 rocket, which will arrive near Didymos and Dimorphos between September 26 and October 1, 2022.

Then DART, which is equipped with an autonomous navigation program using the DRACO camera, will literally crash into the smallest of the asteroids at a speed of 6.6 kilometers per second.

NASA's first interplanetary defense mission

The impact will be documented by LICIAcube, the first Italian satellite to operate in deep space, selected by NASA for this important mission.

The small Italian satellite, integrated with DART, will be released 10 days before the impact of NASA's probe against Dimorphos, and will document the operation with its LUKE and LEIA optical cameras.

This will allow observation from Earth not only of the impact images, the crater and dust plume expected to be seen, but also the asteroid hemispheres hidden from DART's approaching eye.

NASA's first interplanetary defense mission is not related to an imminent danger to Earth, but due to recent acquisitions by astronomers, who are discovering more and more information about celestial bodies crossing the galaxy and Solar System.

First 'Oumuamua, then Comet Borisov, have recently brought attention to the possibility of interstellar bodies crossing the space between the planets of the Solar System.

Of all the asteroids roaming between the belt and our planet, there are some that NASA classifies as "potentially dangerous": these are celestial bodies whose orbit is close to or intersects that of the Earth, but currently none of them pose a threat. One of them is the binary asteroid Didymos, which NASA intends to literally "move".