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SpaceX To Launch NASA’s Asteroid-Smashing Mission

Schematic of the DART mission shows the impact on the moonlet of asteroid (65803) Didymos. Post-impact observations from Earth-based optical telescopes and planetary radar would, in turn, measure the change in the moonlet’s orbit about the parent body. Photo: NASA

NASA is testing a new way to defend Earth from asteroid strikes. The agency has awarded SpaceX a contract as part of a plan to knock an asteroid off course.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, is a spacecraft designed to determine whether an asteroid can be redirected with a high-speed collision.

SpaceX will launch the spacecraft toward an asteroid named Didymos about 4 million miles from Earth. It then will ram into the asteroid’s small moon at about 13,000 miles per hour.

Scientists will observe the impact with telescopes and measure the change in the moonlet’s orbit around the astroid. They hope to move it by just a fraction of a percent off its path, which is enough to deflect any future asteroids off course. Didymos poses no threat to Earth.

SpaceX will launch the eight-foot-tall spacecraft on a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. NASA is paying $69 million for the launch.

The mission will blast off in June 2021 and will smash into the asteroid’s moon around October 2022.

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Brendan Byrne

About Brendan Byrne

Space Reporter and 'Intersection' Producer

Brendan covers space news for WMFE, everything from rocket launches to the latest scientific discoveries in our universe. He hosts "Are We There Yet?", WMFE's space exploration podcast He also helps produce WMFE's twice-weekly public affairs show "Intersection," working with host Matthew Peddie to shape the ... Read Full Bio »