NASA and SpaceX: the launch of the asteroid defense mission is a success

The Falcon 9 rocket was able to take off as planned on the night of Tuesday to Wednesday to allow the DART spacecraft to begin its journey.

A major asteroid impact on our planet is an extremely rare event, but the consequences of which could be fatal. In order to protect humanity from this eventuality, NASA, with the help of SpaceX, launched the DART mission.

DART approaching
Artist’s impression of the impactor just before the collision. Credit: NASA

DART is a kinetic impactor, that is to say a 700 kg vessel intended to be projected onto a small asteroid at a speed greater than 23,000 km / h. The aim of the experiment is to verify the viability of such a maneuver in the event of a real threat.

A smooth launch

The weather conditions being optimal, NASA was able to launch the mission on the night of Tuesday to Wednesday. Shortly after takeoff, the first stage was able to land on the new automated platform “Of Course I Still Love You”. This brings the number of successful landings for SpaceX launchers and boosters to 95.

A double success therefore, since the recovery of a first stage (or a booster) allows its reuse. The Falcon 9 rocket used already had two other missions under its belt in November 2020 and May 2021. The possibility of recycling its launchers is a major asset for SpaceX, because it allows the company to offer launches at unbeatable prices.

Planetary defense is not a priority, at the moment

Detecting asteroids and protecting the Earth is obviously a mission of the utmost importance for the US space agency. However, in recent years, this mission has taken a back seat.

There were not no potential threat in the sky for the next century. Faced with the lack of urgency, the budget devoted to the search for dangerous objects over 140 m in diameter (therefore capable of destroying a large city) had therefore been reduced in favor of other missions.

When he arrived in 2016 as an associate administrator, Thomas Zurbuchen had tripled the budget (from 50 to 150 million dollars) in order to be able to lead the DART mission. The next step is to create an observatory in space to detect and monitor 90% of dangerous objects “nearby” within 10 years.

Prepare a reactive defense

If the DART mission is successful, NASA’s idea would be to create a new kinetic impactor in order to leave it in orbit, ready to be sent to any threat. As the stress test showed, time is of the essence and the sooner an asteroid is deflected, the greater the chance of success.

If DART’s journey goes as planned, it is expected to collide with the asteroid in October 2022.

Source : arstechnica

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