NASA’s first step into planetary defence testing will be made on Tuesday morning (Monday evening US time) when the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft crashes into the nearby mini asteroid Dimorphos.
One of the mission’s final tasks prior to the collision has also been completed with the LICIACube satellite released last week completing its own calibrations.
LICIACube is an Italian-designed cubesat which will be used to capture and transmit images of DART’s impact.
Its twin cameras, dubbed LUKE and LEIA, were recently configured in readiness for this task. On Thursday they captured images of the Pleiades star cluster and Earth.
The LICIACube was deployed on 11 September and will fly past the impact site three minutes after DART’s journey comes to a spectacular, 26,000 km/h conclusion.
The LUKE and LEIA cameras will send images of the impact plume (the cloud of rocks and dust created by the crash) and crater back to the mission team on Earth.
LICIACube may also be sent to the other side of Dimorphos to image the side of the asteroid that won’t be recorded by DART’s on-board camera.
DART just hours from journey’s end
DART is a special test project by NASA and the Applied Physics Laboratory at John Hopkins University to see whether a kinetic impact can shift the trajectory of an asteroid as a potential means of planetary defence.
If successful, it will give scientists a starting point to determine whether scaled-up techniques could protect the Earth from future asteroid impacts.
It will attempt to shift the 160-metre wide asteroid moonlet Dimorphos a millimetre closer to its parent Didymos.
DART is scheduled to impact with Dimorphos on Tuesday 27 September at 9:14am (AEST) (7:14pm (USEDT)/Monday 27 September).
DART Impact live stream
DRACO Camera Live Stream