Nasa controllers will purposefully crash their $330 million Dart robot spacecraft into an asteroid in a few weeks. When the half-ton probe collides with Dimorphos, its target, it will be traveling at a speed of more than four miles per second, and it will be annihilated.
The mission’s simple goal is to teach space engineers how to divert asteroids in the event that one is ever detected headed directly for Earth. They claim that critical information about how well spacecraft can defend Earth from asteroid armageddon will be revealed by observations of Dart’s effects on Dimorphos’s orbit.
Dimorphos, the target of Dart, has a diameter of 160 meters and orbits its parent asteroid once every 12 hours. A purse-sized Italian-built probe with the name LiciaCub that is equipped with two cameras and has been given the Star Wars-inspired names Luke and Leia will be released by the spacecraft ten days before impact. Luke and Leia will take pictures of Dart’s asteroid impact and beam them back to ground controllers.
The asteroid will subsequently be examined by telescopes on Earth to determine how its orbit has changed.