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Double Asteroid Redirection Test

Double Asteroid Redirection Test
Dart header 2 (1).jpg
Illustration of DART mission in space just before impact
Mission typePlanetary defense mission
OperatorNASA  / APL
COSPAR ID2021-110A
SATCAT no.49497
Mission duration11 months (planned)
20 hours (in progress)
Spacecraft properties
Spacecraft typeDouble Asteroid Redirection Test
ManufacturerApplied Physics Laboratory
of Johns Hopkins University
Launch massDART: 610 kg (1,340 lb),
LICIACube: 14 kg (31 lb)
DimensionsDART: 1.8 × 1.9 × 2.6 m (5 ft 11 in × 6 ft 3 in × 8 ft 6 in)
ROSA: 8.5 × 2.4 m (27.9 × 7.9 ft) (each)
Power6.6 kW
Start of mission
Launch date24 November 2021, 06:21:02 UTC
RocketFalcon 9 Block 5, B1063.3
Launch siteVandenberg, SLC-4E
Dimorphos impactor
Impact date26 September 2022 (planned)
Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation (DRACO)
DART Mission Patch.png
DART mission patch  
DART in a launch configuration

Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) is a NASA space mission aimed at testing a method of planetary defense against near-Earth objects (NEO). It will deliberately crash a space probe into the double asteroid Didymos to test whether the kinetic energy of a spacecraft impact could successfully deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. DART is a joint project between NASA and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), administered by NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office, with several NASA laboratories and offices providing technical support. International partners, such as the space agencies of Europe, Italy, and Japan, are contributing to related or subsequent projects. In August 2018, NASA approved the project to start the final design and assembly phase. DART was launched on 24 November 2021, at 06:21:02 UTC, with collision slated for 26 September 2022.


Originally, the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA had independent plans for missions to test asteroid deflection strategies, and by 2015 they struck a collaboration called AIDA (Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment) involving two separate spacecraft launches that work in synergy. Under the proposal, the European spacecraft, AIM, would have launched in December 2020, and DART in July 2021 AIM would have orbited the larger asteroid to study its composition and that of its moon. DART would then impact the asteroid's moon in September 2022, during a close approach to Earth. AIM would have studied the asteroid's strength, surface physical properties, and internal structure, as well as measure the effect on the asteroid moon's orbit around the larger asteroid.[citation needed]

The AIM orbiter was cancelled, the full characterization of the asteroids will not be obtained, and the effects of the impact by DART will be monitored from ground-based telescopes and radar.

In June 2017, NASA approved a move from concept development to the preliminary design phase, and in August 2018 NASA approved the project to start the final design and assembly phase.

On 11 April 2019, NASA announced that a SpaceX Falcon 9 would be used to launch DART. It was originally planned for DART to be a secondary payload on a commercial launch to keep costs low; however, a mission update presentation in November 2018 noted that the mission has a dedicated launch vehicle.[citation needed]

Scientists estimate 25,000 large asteroids are in the Solar System, though to date, surveys have detected about 8000; therefore, NASA officials think it is imperative to develop an effective plan should a near-Earth object threaten Earth.


DART is an impactor, mass of 610 kg (1,340 lb), that hosts no scientific payload other than a Sun sensor, a star tracker, and a 20 cm (7.9 in) aperture camera (Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation - DRACO) based on Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) onboard New Horizons spacecraft to support autonomous navigation to impact the small asteroid's moon at its center.

It is estimated that the impact of the 500 kg (1,100 lb) DART at 6.6 km/s (4.1 mi/s) will produce a velocity change on the order of 0.4 mm/s, which leads to a small change in trajectory of the asteroid system, but over time, it leads to a large shift of path. Over a span of millions of kilometers, the cumulative trajectory change would eliminate the risk of a previously-Earth-bound asteroid hitting Earth. The actual velocity change and orbital shift will be measured a few years later by a spacecraft called Hera that would do a detailed reconnaissance and assessment. Hera was approved in November 2019.

DART spacecraft uses the NEXT ion thruster, a type of solar electric propulsion. It will be powered by 22 m2 (240 sq ft) solar arrays to generate the ~3.5-kW needed to power the NASA Evolutionary Xenon Thruster–Commercial (NEXT-C) engine.

The spacecraft's solar arrays use a Roll Out Solar Array (ROSA) design, and this was tested on the International Space Station in June 2017 as part of Expedition 52, delivered to the station by the SpaceX CRS-11 commercial cargo mission.

Using ROSA as the structure, a small portion of the DART solar array is configured to demonstrate Transformational Solar Array technology, which has very-high-efficiency solar cells and reflective concentrators providing three times more power than current solar array technology.

The DART spacecraft is the first spacecraft to use a new type of high gain communication antenna, that is, a Spiral Radial Line Slot Array (RLSA). The antenna operates at the X-band NASA Deep Space Network (NASA DSN) frequencies of 7.2 and 8.4-GHz. The fabricated antenna exceeds the given requirements, agrees well simulations, and has been tested through environments resulting in a TRL-6 design.

Secondary spacecraft

LICIACube CubeSat a companion satellite of DART spacecraft

The Italian Space Agency (ASI) will contribute a secondary spacecraft called LICIACube (Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids), a small CubeSat that will piggyback with DART and will separate 10 days before impact to acquire images of the impact and ejecta as it drifts past the asteroid. LICIACube will communicate directly with Earth, sending back images of the ejecta after the Dimorphos flyby. LICIACube is equipped with two optical cameras, dubbed LUKE and LEIA.

Follow-up mission

In a collaborating project, the European Space Agency is developing Hera, a spacecraft that will be launched to Didymos in 2024 and arrive in 2027 — 5 years after DART's impact — to do a detailed reconnaissance and assessment. Hera would carry two CubeSats, Milani and Juventas.

AIDA mission architecture

Host spacecraft Secondary spacecraft Remarks
  • By the Italian Space Agency
  • 6U CubeSat
  • LUKE (LICIACube Unit Key Explorer) Camera and LEIA (LICIACube Explorer Imaging for Asteroid) Camera
Hera Juventas
  • By GomSpace and GMV
  • 6U CubeSat orbiter
  • Camera, JuRa monostatic low-frequency radar, accelerometers, and gravimeter
  • Will attempt to land on the asteroid surface
  • By Italy/Czech/Finnish consortium
  • 6U CubeSat orbiter
  • VIS/Near-IR spectrometer, volatile analyzer
  • Will characterize Didymos and Dimorphos surface composition and the dust environment around the system
  • Will perform technology demonstration experiments

Mission profile

Target asteroid

Shape model of Didymos and its satellite Dimorphos, based on photometric light curve and radar data

The mission's target is Dimorphos in 65803 Didymos system, a binary asteroid system in which one asteroid is orbited by a smaller one. The primary asteroid (Didymos A) is about 780 m (2,560 ft) in diameter; its small satellite Dimorphos (Didymos B) is about 160 m (520 ft) in diameter in an orbit about 1 km (0.62 mi) from the primary. DART will target the smaller asteroid, Dimorphos. Didymos is not an Earth-crossing asteroid, and there is no possibility that the deflection experiment could create an impact hazard.

Preflight preparations

Launch preparations for DART began on 20 October 2021, as the spacecraft began fueling at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The spacecraft arrived at Vandenberg Space Force Base (VSFB) near Lompoc, in early October after a cross-country drive. DART team members have since been preparing the spacecraft for flight, testing the spacecraft's mechanisms and electrical system, wrapping the final parts in multilayer insulation blankets, and practicing the launch sequence from both the launch site and the mission operations center at APL. DART headed to the SpaceX Payload Processing Facility on VSFB on 26 October 2021. Two days later, the team received the green light to fill DART's fuel tank with roughly 50 kg (110 lb) of hydrazine propellant for spacecraft maneuvers and attitude control. DART also carries about 60 kg (130 lb) of xenon for the NEXT-C ion engine. Engineers loaded the xenon before the spacecraft left APL in early October 2021.

Starting on 10 November 2021, engineers "mated" the spacecraft to the adapter that stacks on top of the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle. The falcon 9 rocket without the payload fairing rolled for a static fire and later came back to the processing facility again where technicians with SpaceX installed the two halves of the fairing around the spacecraft over the course of two days, November 16 and 17, inside the SpaceX Payload Processing Facility at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California and the ground teams completed a successful Flight Readiness Review later that week with the fairing then attached to the rocket.

A day before launch, the launch vehicle rolled out of the hangar and onto the launch pad at Vandenberg Space Launch Complex 4 (SLC-4E), where it propeled the spacecraft into space and kick off DART's journey to the Didymos system.


The Dart spacecraft was launched on 24 November 2021.

Early planning suggested that DART was planned to be deployed into a high altitude, high eccentricity Earth orbit that is designed to avoid the Moon. In such a scenario, DART would use its (low thrust, high efficiency) NEXT ion engine to slowly escape from its high Earth orbit to a slightly inclined near-Earth solar orbit, from which it would maneuver onto a collision trajectory with its target. But due to this being a dedicated Falcon 9 mission, the payload along with falcon 9 second stage was placed directly on a Earth escape velocity trajectory or directly to heliocentric orbit when the second stage reignited for a second engine startup or escape burn. Thus, although DART carries a first-of-its-kind electric thruster and plenty of xenon fuel, Falcon 9 did almost all of the work, leaving the spacecraft to perform a few trajectory corrections burns with simple chemical thrusters as it homes in on Didymos' moon Dimorphos.


See also

This page was last updated at 2021-11-25 03:24 UTC. Update now. View original page.

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