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Here’s the Didymos Asteroid, Doesn’t Know Humans Have Bad Things Planned for It

September 26. That’s when for the first time in the history of the single sentient species that we know of, our kind will try to alter the orbit of an asteroid, thus making the first step to becoming capable of defending itself against space dangers.
DART spots its target 6 photos
Double Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraftDouble Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraftDouble Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraftDouble Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraftDouble Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraft
DART is the name of the projectile-spacecraft that’ll help us do that. The acronym is short for its all-revealing full name, which is Double Asteroid Redirection Test - “double” because its target is a binary asteroid comprising asteroid Didymos and its moonlet, the 160 meters (525 feet) across Dimorphos, “redirection” because NASA plans to nudge Dimorphos off its orbit a bit, by slamming DART into it at 15,000 mph (24,140 kph), and “test“ because, well, that’s what this is.

The spacecraft is currently well on track to meet its doom and destiny, but on its way there, it snapped tons of images of what lies ahead. On July 27, it took 243 photos with the Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation (DRACO), which were then compiled and this image of the target asteroid was published this week.

If it weren’t for the NASA visual aids (big blue square and small blue circle), we’d probably have no idea what we’re looking at – after all, the images were taken from a distance of 20 million miles (32 million km).

“This first set of images is being used as a test to prove our imaging techniques,” said Elena Adams, the DART mission systems engineer at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.

“The quality of the image is similar to what we could obtain from ground-based telescopes, but it is important to show that DRACO is working properly and can see its target to make any adjustments needed before we begin using the images to guide the spacecraft into the asteroid autonomously.”

DRACO is a crucial instrument the spacecraft needs to guide itself to its final resting place, as no human intervention will be possible in the final four hours before impact. Before it gets to do that, DART’s handlers will perform three trajectory correction maneuvers, helping reduce the spacecraft’s margin for error. Scientists expect to know the position of the target asteroid within 2 km (1.2 miles) with 24 hours left until impact.

press release

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