Nasa is preparing to launch its first-ever “planetary defence” mission to crash a spacecraft onto an asteroid to slightly change its course.
Engineers and scientists part of the American space agency’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (Dart) team have filled the spacecraft with fuel, performed many of the final tests, and are running rehearsals as they approach the scheduled launch on 23 November, Nasa said on Thursday.
“Dart will be the first demonstration of the ‘kinetic impactor’ technique in which a spacecraft deliberately collides with a known asteroid at high speed to change the asteroid’s motion in space,” Lindley Johnson, Nasa’s planetary defence officer, said in a statement.
In the mission, the spacecraft is set to ram into the small moonlet asteroid Dimorphos — which orbits a larger companion asteroid called Didymos — at about 6km/s to slightly change its orbit.
Researchers then hope to use Earth-based telescopes to measure the effects of the impact on the asteroid system.\