NASA has postponed the launch of the first ever planetary defense mission, which aims to deflect potentially harmful asteroids from Earth.
The mission, called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), will send a spacecraft to test an impact on the near-Earth binary asteroid system Didymos in 2022. NASA announced on February 17 that the main launch window for this year is July 21 to August. 24 is no longer an option. According to a statement from NASA, the space agency’s goal is to establish a backup window that will open on November 24 and last until February 15, 2022.
After conducting a risk assessment of the progress of the DART project, the senior leadership of NASA̵
related: Potentially dangerous asteroid (picture)
A recent risk assessment revealed technical problems with two main components of the spacecraft, including its main instrument Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Optical Navigation Camera (DRACO), as well as its launch of the Solar Cell Array (ROSA). The DRACO imager needs to be reinforced to ensure that it can withstand the launch, and the solar panels will be delayed due to some supply chain issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
SMD Deputy Director Thomas Zurbuchen said in the statement: “At NASA, mission success and safety are of utmost importance. After careful risk assessment, it is clear that DART cannot be launched safely and feasible within the main launch window.” “To ensure that DART can be launched. After successfully completing the mission, NASA instructed the team to seek the earliest launch opportunity during the second launch window in order to allow more time for DRACO to test and deliver ROSA, and to provide a safe working environment through the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The DART spacecraft will be launched from the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. NASA is working with SpaceX and the agency’s “launch service plan” to find the earliest launch opportunity within this auxiliary window.
The target of DART is a binary asteroid system consisting of a larger asteroid Didymos (approximately 2,540 feet (775 meters) wide) and a smaller asteroid moon Dimorphos (540 feet (165 m) long). The mission will test a new planetary defense technology that requires a spacecraft to crash into Dimorphos to change the orbital speed of asteroids through dynamic influences. If successful, the technology can be used to deflect asteroids that pose a threat to the Earth.
NASA officials said in the statement: “Although COVID-19 is not the only factor causing this delay, it has become an important factor in causing multiple problems.” “Testing the equipment before launch is to ensure the success of all missions. For the key step, the project team will schedule the time in the processing schedule to accommodate potential delays.”
NASA’s DART mission will also carry a small satellite named Light Italian Cubesat, used to image asteroids, or LICIACube, which was built by the Italian Space Agency to observe the impact on Dimorphos and the event The image returns to the earth. The European Space Agency also plans to conduct a follow-up mission to Dimorphos called “Hera”, which will evaluate the results of the DART mission and study the point of impact on the asteroid. The Hera mission is expected to launch in 2023 or 2024 and reach the asteroid two years later.
Follow Samantha Matthewson @ Sam_Ashley13.follow us On Twitter @Spacedotcom and Facebook.