World’s first planetary defence system, intended to stop a potential doomsday meteorite collision with Earth, was put to the test on Monday when NASA’s DART spacecraft hurtled through the solar system at supersonic speed.
Ten months after DART’s launch, the suicide spaceflight’s conclusion—first humanity’s attempt to change the course of an asteroid or any other celestial body—was broadcast live by NASA from the mission operations centre outside of Washington, D.C.
The asteroid Dimorphos is about the size of a football stadium, and it is 6.8 million miles (11 million km) from Earth. The livestream showed images captured by DART’s own camera as the cube-shaped “impactor” vehicle, no bigger than a vending machine with two rectangular solar arrays, streaked into the asteroid Dimorphos at around 7 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT).
The goal of the project was to find out if a spaceship could nudge an asteroid just far enough off track to spare our planet by using only kinetic force to alter its trajectory.
IMPACT SUCCESS! Watch from #DARTMIssion’s DRACO Camera, as the vending machine-sized spacecraft successfully collides with asteroid Dimorphos, which is the size of a football stadium and poses no threat to Earth. pic.twitter.com/7bXipPkjWD
— NASA (@NASA) September 26, 2022
It won’t be known whether it was successful beyond making the intended hit until further ground-based telescope examinations of the asteroid next month. The spacecraft looked to have functioned as intended, according to NASA officials, who applauded the experiment’s rapid results.
DART, which was launched by a SpaceX rocket in November 2021, was mostly piloted by NASA flight directors until the last hours of the trip, when autonomous on-board navigation software took over.
The mission operations centre at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, kept a close eye on Monday night’s impact.
Engineers in the control room could be heard cheering as images of the intended asteroid grew larger second by second until they finally filled the TV screen of NASA’s live webcast, proving the spacecraft had safely crashed into Dimorphos.