NASA is devising a plan to launch a spacecraft alongside aSpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in mid-2021 that will hit a small moonlet in the binary asteroid system Didymos in September 2022. This plan is a part of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) – NASA’s first mission to exhibit a planetary defence mechanism.
The DART will intercept with the target using solar electric propulsion when the asteroid is 11 million km from earth. The said asteroid poses no threat to earth, thus making it an ideal test target. However, the understanding of the system is necessary for the test to be successful.
The scientists have been making efforts to study Didymosfrom earth since 2015, and now, an international campaign coordinated by Christina Thomas of Nothern Arizona University is making crucial observations using powerful telescopes to determine the state of the asteroid before DART reaches it.
The present observations will aid the researchers in getting a better understanding of the impact made when DART collides with Didymos. Following this, the investigation team would begin observing the target again from the late 2020s till the spring of 2021. The final ground-based observation would transpire as the spacecraft travels towards the asteroid, also after the impact occurs.