DART, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, is the first mission to test a potential method of deflecting an asteroid on course to hit Earth. Launching in 2021 and arriving at asteroid 65803 Didymos in 2022, it will intentionally crash into the asteroid's small moon (informally known as Didymoon).
The crash should change Didymoon’s orbital period around Didymos by 4.2 minutes, a large enough change to measure from Earth-based telescopes. Such a change would show that if we spot a potentially hazardous asteroid in time, a DART-like impact could change its course enough to miss Earth.
DART is NASA's contribution to the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA) mission, a NASA-ESA collaboration. After DART’s impact, in 2025, ESA would send a follow-on spacecraft called Hera to Didymos to observe the crater DART created.
En route to Didymos, DART may fly past asteroid 2001 CB21. Shortly before DART strikes Didymoon, it may also deploy an Italian Space Agency-built CubeSat to observe the impact.
DART's primary mission goals are:
- Demonstrate kinetic impactor deflection of an asteroid by impacting Didymos B
- Characterize the amount of deflection
- Improve modeling and assess momentum transfer efficiency of hypervelocity asteroid impact
- Period change of the Didymos binary system induced by DART impact, with Earth-based observations
- Location of the impact site and local surface geology
- Sizes and shapes of Didymos A and B
- Measure asteroid deflection to within 10%
- Return high resolution images of target prior to impact
- Autonomous guidance with proportional navigation to hit the center of 150 meter target body
65803 Didymos (Greek for "twin") is a binary, S-type near-Earth asteroid system. The system was discovered in 1996 by Spacewatch at Kitt Peak, Arizona, and confirmed as a binary asteroid in 2003.
- Aphelion: 2.28 AU
- Perihelion: 1.01 AU
- Close approaches to Earth: 04 October 2022 (0.071 AU / 10.6 million kilometers / 27 lunar distances), 01 September 2041 (0.354 AU / 53 million kilometers / 138 lunar distances)
Didymos A (parent body)
- Diameter: 750 meters
- Rotation period: 2.26 hours (rapid rotator)
Didymos B (Didymoon)
- Diameter: 160 meters
- Orbital period: 11.90 hours (tidally locked). After the DART impact, Didymos B's orbital period is expected to drop from 11.90 to 11.83 hours, a difference of 4.2 minutes.
- Distance from Didymos A: 1.18 kilometers
Didymos arrival mass: 500 kg
DART has a single science instrument called DRACO (Didymos Reconnaissance & Asteroid Camera for OpNav), a dual-purpose telescope for observing the asteroid in high-resolution and for autonomous navigation. New Horizons LORRI heritage, built by JHUAPL. 208 mm aperture, f/12.6, 0.29-degree field of view. Panchromatic CMOS image sensor with 2560 x 2160 pixel resolution. Fletcher et. al (2018)
When DART is about 4 hours away from impact, its Small-body Maneuvering Autonomous Real-Time (SMART) navigation system will guide the spacecraft the rest of the way to Didymoon. Using images from DRACO, SMART will differentiate between Didymos A and B and steer toward Didymos B.
NEXT-C (NASA Evolutionary Xenon Thruster – Commercial) solar electric propulsion system: DART's solar-electric propulsion system gives it launch window flexibility, since it will make multiple phasing loops around Earth before reaching escape velocity and heading on to Didymos. Dawn heritage, developed at NASA Glenn. Can be throttled from 25 to 235 mN, input power up to 7.4 kW. Fact sheet (2018)
Roll Out Solar Arrays (ROSA): DART's 2 large, roll-out solar arrays are necessary to provide power for the solar-electric propulsion system. The roll-out technology was successfully tested in space from the International Space Station in 2017. Beginning-of-life power: 6.6 kW. Manufacturer: Deployable Space Systems (DSS)
- 11 April 2019: NASA announces $69 million launch contract for DART to launch on SpaceX Falcon 9 from Vandenberg Air Force Base
- 16 August 2018: DART moves into final design and assembly phase
- 2017: ESA refines AIM concept, re-brands mission proposal as Hera
- 23 June 2017: DART moves from concept to preliminary design phase
- December 2016: ESA council declines to fund its portion of the mission, AIM. NASA continues work on DART, noting that ground-based telescopes can observe Didymoon's orbital change around Didymos instead.
- 2012: ESA and NASA consider teaming up for the mission, which becomes AIDA, the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment. ESA would contribute the monitoring spacecraft, AIM (Asteroid Impact Monitoring), and NASA would contribute DART, the impactor spacecraft.
- 2005: ESA begins considering a two-spacecraft asteroid deflection mission called Don Quijote, which would send a spacecraft called Sancho to orbit the target asteroid before a second spacecraft named Hidalgo impacts the asteroid. Two asteroid targets were considered: 2002 AT4 and 1989 ML.
DART's planned budget is $313.9 million spread out over 8 years. This covers spacecraft development, launch vehicle, and operations through the end of its primary mission in late 2022.