The Double Asteroid Redirection Test Mission, also referred to as DART, is a planetary defense program designed to test technologies to prevent impacts from Earth’s most notorious nemeses: hazardous asteroids. For the first time in our planet’s history, our civilization achieved the capability to develop strategies to thwart the existential threat of a catastrophic asteroid collision, unlike the dinosaurs that perished in the wake of Cretaceous–Paleogene mass extinction event some 66 million years ago. If only raptors had a space force…

Asteroid Impacts, albeit small, non-threatening ones, strike the Earth on a regular basis. Large objects, the size of a school bus or two, hit the Earth at an interval of once every 1000 years and may inflict sufficient regional damage, especially in the modern age where everything functions on interconnected electrical grids. Even greater objects strike the Earth at a wider interval, evident by the massive craters left behind like the Chicxulub or Barringer Meteor Crater. Though we’re not in the clear quite yet, some of our planet’s greatest minds actively collaborate on a solution, determined to avoid another violent impact event that would leave humanity to suffer the same fate as the dinosaurs.

The Barringer Meteor Crater in Arizona, USA. Credit: D. Roddy, Lunar and Planetary Institute

The DART Mission is the first of its kind. Equipped with a loadout of instruments designed to track and image incoming asteroids in order to navigate them accordingly, this scientific innovation and all the data it produces will lay the foundation for this burgeoning field of technology dedicated to averting these planet killing city smashing genocide space rocks. The mission will demonstrate its effectiveness on a binary asteroid (two asteroids, hanging out like old buddies, orbiting each other): 65803 Didymos. Didymos’ primary body is 780 meters across, while its secondary body buddy (moonlet) stretches 160 meters in diameter, typical sizes of rocks that could devastate our beloved world. Intensely observed with ground based telescopes, scientists, researchers, and astronauts continue to analyze the asteroid to prepare for the DART mission, which aims to alter Didymos’ trajectory.

Following launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California in late 2021 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and a year of space travel, DART will crash into the moonlet sometime around September 2022, disrupting its orbit by a degree of less than a fraction of 1% around the main body in attempt to alter the speed of 65803 Didymos. During this time, ground based telescopes and radars, 11 million kilometers away from will calculate the changes in momentum caused by the collision. The mission will lay the groundwork for future innovations for planetary defense, which might one day save the world starring Tom Cruise.

Many American space agencies support the DART program, including the Goddard Space Flight Center, JPL, Johnson Space Center, Glenn Research Center, and the Langley Research Center. The Applied Physics Laboratory primarily operates the mission, as directed by NASA.

Two different views of the DART spacecraft. The DRACO (Didymos Reconnaissance & Asteroid Camera for OpNav) imaging instrument and the Radial Line Slot Array (RLSA) antenna with the ROSAs (Roll-Out Solar Arrays) rolled up. Credit: NASA