SpaceX To Launch NASA Spacecraft To Intentionally Crash Into Asteroid

SpaceX, the aerospace company owned by Elon Musk, will on early Wednesday morning launch a first-of-its-kind planetary defense mission for NASA, under which the spacecraft will specifically crash into an asteroid.

Known as the Double Asteroid Redirection Test or DART mission, NASA is trying to understand how to deflect a threat that would come toward Earth, NASA associate administrator of the science mission directorate Thomas Zurbuchen said.

SpaceX is launching DART on a Falcon 9 rocket from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, with a lift-off window, which starts at 1:20 a.m. ET on Wednesday.

The DART is a 610-kilogram spacecraft, which will spend 10 months traveling to a pair of asteroids, named Didymos and Dimorphos. DART was made at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland, while space company Redwire designed the spacecraft's navigation and the solar arrays, which will power the spacecraft.

The DART spacecraft will hit the smaller of the two asteroids, Dimorphos, at about 15,000 miles per hour and understand how the hit will affect the asteroid's movement.
NASA's Launch Services Program senior launch director Omar Baez said, "We're smashing into an asteroid. Rest assured, that rock right now is not a threat."

NASA has spent about $330 million in total on the DART mission, with SpaceX having won a $69 million contract in 2019 for the launch. This is NASA's first planetary defense mission and also SpaceX's first mission launching a spacecraft to another planetary body.

Last Friday, SpaceX had test fired its Falcon 9 rocket in preparation for the launch.
While this mission is testing a type of planetary defense, Zurbuchen said that there is no near-term risks to Earth. There are billions of asteroids and comets orbiting the sun, but none will hit the Earth anytime soon.

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