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NASA Grants Elon Musk's SpaceX $69 Million Contract To Fly Spacecraft Into Asteroid: What's The Objective Of DART Mission?

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A large, highly dangerous, and potentially deadly asteroid is on a collision course with Earth.

How will mankind deal with it? By preparing a defense system called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test mission, that's how.

NASA recently awarded SpaceX a $69 million government contract to deflect incoming asteroids that are on a collision course with the planet.

The DART mission has been in the works for several years at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Now, it has a real launch date with SpaceX, which is under the reins of billionaire philanthropist Elon Musk.

According to NASA, a Falcon 9 rocket will head into space in June 2021 to blast incoming asteroids in the future.

What's The Objective Of The DART Mission?

The main goal of the DART mission is to deflect possible asteroid collisions with Earth by using a kinetic impactor.

The DART mission, which will achieve its first-ever test run in 2021, works by hitting the asteroid with something dense and fast. This will nudge the trajectory of the object away from an impact.

A year later, in October 2022, the DART mission will then intercept a small moon of the binary asteroid Didymos. The asteroid will be 11 million kilometers away from Earth, NASA said.

Moreover, the DART mission aims to learn more about how asteroids are likely to behave when smacked with a kinetic impactor.

Self-driving Spacecraft Used To Prevent Asteroid Collisions

Aside from the DART mission, scientists are also looking into the possibility of using self-driving spacecraft to prevent asteroid collisions.

One such spacecraft is the Hera spacecraft, which is built by the European Space Agency and is part of a larger initiative known as the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA) mission.

The DART mission and the AIDA mission are interconnected. AIDA will begin as soon as a spacecraft from DART purposefully crashes into the moon of the asteroid Didymos.

After three years, the Hera spacecraft will then arrive on Didymos's moon to analyze it as well as the crater left by the impact.

Why Preventing Asteroid Collisions Matters In The Long Run

So far, NASA and ESA have not identified any potentially dangerous space rocks that pose a catastrophic threat on Earth in the near future.

Sara Mazrouei, a planetary scientist from the University of Toronto, said spotting asteroids on collision with Earth is a "game of probabilities."

"These events are still rare and far between that I'm not too worried about it," said Mazrouei.

Still, preventing asteroid collisions are important because it not only allows scientists to learn more about cosmic objects, it also ensures the safety of the planet itself.

According to NASA, at least 19,000 near-Earth asteroids have been detected at the beginning of 2019. An average of 30 new discoveries is added every week.

Furthermore, NASA explained that no asteroid can be shot down in the last few minutes or hours before impact because the velocity of an asteroid is at an average of 12 miles per second. This is why prevention is the best option.

Lastly, research has shown that the best technique to divert an asteroid from its impact course largely depends on the scenario. It could depend on the choice of method for impact mitigation, and also on the orbit of the asteroid, its composition, bulk properties, and relative velocity, NASA said.

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