After Japan laid waste to an innocent asteroid named Ryugu with the Hayabusa2 craft, the European Space Agency just had to go and one-up them.
The Hayabusa2 dropped a bomb on the surface of an asteroid with reasonably devastating effects, so we as a species thought "maybe we can drive something into it?".
In the vacuum of space, gravity created by the object is the only true thing holding asteroids together, and much like Ryugu, when hit with enough force they will break apart into sand-like material. When these objects penetrate our atmosphere and are tempered by extreme heat is where things really start to go downhill for us.
The unfortunate asteroid is Didymos B, a smaller object in the region known as the Didymos binary asteroid system.
The craft is NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), a purpose-built destruction derby car of sorts to see if we can divert an asteroid coming our way.
This is the most practical and cost-effective strategy to create an insurance policy should a space nugget come flying our way. Plus with Didymos being adjacent to earth the results can be much faster.
The specs of Didymos B are modest yet make the perfect test object for DART.
It is 160 meters across and orbits the larger Didymos A every 11.92 hours at a speed of 23,760km/h, so trajectory calculations are considered simple.
If we can just change the orbit of Didymos B, the implications are that we can change the trajectory of incoming asteroids enough for them to bypass earth, should we have enough of a heads up.
The schedule for launch is midway through 2021 to reach Didymos sometime in September or roughly 2 months of travel. A small CubeSat satellite will detach from the spacecraft to take gnarly photos of the crash.
Unfortunately, we won't readily be able to observe the new orbit of Didymos B until Hera, the ESA's small observation spacecraft, launches and makes visual contact in 2023 and 2027 respectively.
We are waiting with bated breath as we thrust harder into the deep unknown...
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