News / World

Cheryl Kahla
Deputy Online News Editor
2 minute read
24 Nov 2021
8:45 am

WATCH: NASA launches DART spacecraft to knock an asteroid off course

Cheryl Kahla

Watch SpaceX and NASA's Dart Mission launch here – humanity’s first planetary defence test to redirect an asteroid.

DART tests kick of today to demonstrate if it is capable of asteroid deflection. Picture: AFP/Bill Ingalls

US space agency NASA and SpaceX launched the first-of-its-kind DART mission: a test to redirect an asteroid by deliberately smashing spacecraft into it.

This marks the first step towards one day stopping a space rock from eradicating all life on Earth.

Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART)

NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) was mounted atop SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and launched into orbit on Tuesday morning.

The was conducted at the Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, and the rocket’s trajectory can be viewed below.

Watch: NASA and SpaceX’s DART mission

This will be the third flight for this Falcon 9’s first stage booster, which previously supported the launch of Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich and a Starlink mission.

Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage will land on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship, which will be located in the Pacific Ocean.

DART is humanity’s “first planetary defence test mission 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”.

Dart versus asteroids

The goal of this test is to slightly alter the trajectory of Dimorphos, a moonlet around 160 meters. It circles a much larger asteroid called Didymos, and the duo orbit the Sun together.

The impact, however, will only take place in 2022, when the binary asteroid system is 11 million kilometres from Earth, almost the nearest point they ever get. 

nasa dart spacex rocket launch asteroid
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, the world’s first full-scale planetary defense testPhoto: AFP/Bill Ingalls

NASA’s top scientist Thomas Zuburchen said the goal of the $330 million project – the first of its kind – is to learn is how to deflect a threat

No immediate threat

It’s vital to this is just a just test; Dimorphos poses no threat to Earth whatsoever. Even though it’s classified as a Near-Earth Objects (NEOs), the asteroid will approach within 48 million kilometres.

That said, the large asteroid – Didymos – is 150 metres wide and could potentially level entire cities or regions, with the force of multiple nuclear bombs.

There are approximately 10,000 known large asteroids out there but none will be slamming into us within the next 100 years.

However, and we don’t mean to alarm you – scientists have reason to believe there are still 15,000 more such objects yet to be discovered…

nasa dart spacex rocket launch asteroid
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, spacecraft onboard at the Space Launch Complex 4E, Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Picture: AFP/Bill Ingalls