NASA has announced that the agency’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission will be launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
The DART mission will attempt to demonstrate the capability of deflecting an asteroid utilising a kinetic impactor. To put it simply, NASA plan to crash a spacecraft into an asteroid at high speed in an attempt to change its trajectory. The technology is part of a growing effort to formulate a planetary defence system capable of shielding the Earth from a potentially extinction-level asteroid strike.
Currently targeted for a June 2021 launch date, the DART mission will liftoff aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Over a year later, in October 2022 the spacecraft will intercept and attempt to strike a 170-meter moon orbiting the Didymos asteroid 11 million kilometres from Earth.
The announcement that SpaceX had been awarded NASA’s DART came yesterday within hours of the launch provider’s first operational Falcon Heavy mission. The launch contract will see SpaceX receiving approximately $69 million to launch the demonstration mission, an amount that includes launch services and “other mission related costs”.