Nasa launches DART mission to crash into asteroid to deflect it away from Earth

24 November 2021, 08:35 | Updated: 24 November 2021, 09:33

By Emma Soteriou

Nasa has launched its Dart rocket in a first test of technology that could deflect asteroids away from a collision course with planet Earth.

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It blasted off form Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, in the US, in the early hours of Wednesday.

The double asteroid redirection test (Dart) is an attempt to test technologies for potential hazardous asteroids approaching Earth in the future.

The spacecraft will crash into an asteroid in a bid to smash it off course, also showing it can navigate towards a target by itself.

It separated from the SpaceX Falcon 9 second stage during its ascent, orientating itself toward the Sun.

The target of the rocket is not a threat to Earth, instead being the far-off asteroid moonlet Dimorphos (Greek for two forms), which orbits a larger asteroid named Didymos (Greek for twin).

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The collision will change the speed of the moonlet in its orbit around the main body by a fraction of 1 per cent.

NASA tweeted: "We've received our first signals from #DARTMission, which will continue to roll out its solar arrays in the coming hours and prepare for its 10-month, one-way trip to the asteroid Dimorphos."

The solar arrays are set to provide the solar power needed for the rocket's electric propulsion system throughout its journey.

The space administration has said the system is a perfect testing ground to see if intentionally crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid is an effective way to change its course, should an Earth-threatening asteroid be discovered in the future.

While there is no expected threat from an asteroid larger than 140 metres in the next 100 years, only about 40 per cent of those asteroids have been found as of October 2021.

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