Science & Technology

What Happened to DART?

By Cody Sung

Volume 3 Issue 1

November 7, 2022

What Happened to DART?

Image provided by NASA

While NASA was busy with many attempts to launch their Moon rocket in their Artemis 1 mission [1], they were also getting ready to crash a $314 million spacecraft into an asteroid [2]. The mission is named the Double Redirection Asteroid Test, or as it is commonly known, DART. NASA is conducting this mission to test whether spacecraft have the capability to change the orbit of an asteroid that could crash into Earth. According to NASA; however, the asteroid that DART crashed into, Dimorphos, doesn’t pose a threat to Earth [3]. Despite this, the mission would still provide useful information for scientists. By hurling DART at Dimorphos, NASA estimated that it would shorten its orbit time by around 1%, or 10 minutes [4]. Luckily, we likely won’t need to test this out soon, since according to NASA, there are no known asteroid threats to Earth for the next century [5]. 

Work beyond the initial conceptual phases for DART began in June 2017, and the final design and assembly phase began in August 2018. The spacecraft weighed 1,340 pounds, and its cargo includes devices needed for the mission such as sensors for navigation, a camera, an onboard computer for crash trajectory calculations, solar arrays, an antenna, and an ion thruster [6]. During the journey to Dimorphos, it had to carry an Italian spacecraft, LICIACube, which would be used to study the effects of DART’s impact. Despite all that the DART team had to accomplish, the spacecraft was completed in time for its launch on November 24, 2021, from Vandenburg Space Force Base in California in a SpaceX Falcon 9 [7]. 

It would be a long journey ahead. Even going at about 4 miles a second, it would take the craft 9 months to reach Dimorphos. In preparation for its impact, there were many equipment tests to make sure the craft functioned properly. Everything worked properly, and two months before the impact, DART detected the Didymos system from 20 million miles away [6]. LICIACube was released one and a half months later, 15 days before the impact. Finally, on September 26, 2022, DART crashed into Dimorphos

The mission was a success. To astronomers worldwide, it was well worth the total $330 million cost of the mission [8]. LICIACube started to send images back to Earth a few minutes after the impact, showing the debris from DART’s impact [9]. In the following weeks, images from more sources started to stream in. It became quite clear that the impact shortened the orbital period of Dimorphos by around 32 minutes [10]. Thanks to this mission, we now know that if there is ever an asteroid that could hit Earth, we have a way to prevent its impact, although NASA scientists caution that we would have to do so years in advance for such a maneuver to be a success [4].