NASA’s DART kamikaze probe launched a cubesat to monitor an asteroid impact from the side

Ten days are left until the most expensive crash test in the history of the earth. The NASA DART kamikaze probe weighing 550 kg and the size of a small refrigerator should crash on September 27 into the 160th asteroid Dimorph. The first witness to the man-made disaster will be the Italian cubesat LICIACube, which recently separated from the probe and began to follow the events from the outside.

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The 10 × 20 × 30 cm LICIACube 6U cube separated from the DART probe on September 11. There are two cameras on board, one with a wide field of view and the other with a narrow field of view. The CubeSat will trail slightly behind the kamikaze probe to film its impact on the asteroid, record the level of dust emissions from the impact and take a picture of the man-made crater from an altitude of about 55 km. Then the LICIACube will fly off into outer space and sink into eternity – it has no resources to slow down and go into orbit around the target asteroid, and they weren’t meant to.

The NASA DART mission is to test the ability of Earthlings to kinetically impact asteroids that are dangerous to our planet. Let’s leave colorful “fireworks” in the form of nuclear strikes on asteroids to fantastic works. The resulting swarm of fragments in this case will resemble a sharp shot from a shotgun. Pinpoint strikes with the ability to change the dangerous trajectory of asteroids look more preferable – there will be few fragments, and the trajectory will be changed to a safe one. At least that’s how it looks in theory. We can find out how this works in practice in ten days.

It is expected that an impact on Dimorph in a binary system of asteroids will noticeably change the orbit of a small body around a large one. Changes must be noticeable for observation in telescopes. The crash site should be studied in more detail during the Hera mission. The Hera probe, with two cubesats on board, should go to the Dimorph system in late 2024. It is expected that the Hera project will be ready before the end of this year.

The DART probe’s navigation system, represented by the DRACO camera, is already monitoring the system of the asteroid Dimorph, but for now the probe is controlled by a team from Earth. One of these days this situation will change – DART will take control for precision targeting.

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