Los Angeles, US, Nov 24 (EFE).- A spacecraft has lifted off from a base in the United States for a rendezvous with an asteroid to smash the primordial rocky object orbiting the Sun as part of the American space agency’s planetary defense strategy for Earth.
The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission was launched at 10:21 pm aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on Tuesday.
The DART spacecraft is headed towards the asteroid, Didymos, and will impact moonlet Dimorphos to change its orbit.
The journey is expected to culminate in the fall of 2022 when the spacecraft will slam into the asteroid.
According to NASA calculations, Didymos and Dimorphos will be relatively close to Earth – about 11 million km (6.83 million miles) – at the estimated time of impact.
Once the DART spacecraft collides with Dimorphos, NASA will examine the changes in its orbit around Didymos to assess whether it is a feasible method to defend Earth in case an asteroid poses a threat to the planet.
For the impact to be effective, the spacecraft will travel at about 6.6 km per second, an “incredibly fast” speed necessary for the crash to alter “a little” the trajectory of Dimorphos, the size of the George Washington monument, a 155 feet high (47.2 meters) obelisk located in the United States capital.
But the spacecraft has a greater volume, Luis Rodríguez, a software engineer at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and part of the DART mission team, told EFE.
The collision will be recorded by a briefcase-sized satellite called CubeSat, developed by the Italian Space Agency.
The smaller spacecraft will be deployed shortly before the collision to capture images and videos of the impact and its effect on Dimorphos.
NASA said it would combine the data from the mission with that from the Hera mission of the European Space Agency.
That space mission, scheduled between 2024 and 2026, will analyze in greater detail the asteroids and the crater that DART will leave in Dimorphos. EFE