Science

NASA spacecraft colliding with asteroid sees target for first time (pictured)

It’s not the moon. This is a lunatic.

NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft has just transmitted the first image of its target, the moon Dimorphos, as well as the body it orbits, the asteroid Didymos. DART is a planetary defense test mission designed to impact the moon to change its trajectory around Didymos. If this spacecraft design proves effective, it could potentially be scaled up to deflect an asteroid approaching Earth. (Didymos and Dimorphos pose no threat to Earth—they are a testing ground for kinetic impact technology.)

The image, consisting of 243 individual images, was acquired from a single DART instrument, the Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical Navigation (DRACO); it was filmed on July 27 and posted on Wednesday (September 7). It shows both Dimorphos and Didymos as a single luminous point – the spacecraft at this moment was still at a distance of 20 million miles (32 million kilometers) from the asteroids, so they seem indistinguishable.

Related: NASA’s DART Asteroid Impact Mission Explained in Pictures

“This first set of images is being used as a test to validate our imaging techniques,” DART mission systems engineer Elena Adams of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland, who leads the mission, said in a statement. (will open in a new tab). “The image quality is similar to what we might get from ground-based telescopes, but it is important to show that DRACO is working correctly and can see its target in order to make any necessary adjustments before we start using the images to control the spacecraft. into an asteroid autonomously.

Ultimately, DART will use DRACO to navigate to the crash site completely independently of its ground controllers. But while people rule. Over the next three weeks, the team will use images taken every five hours to perform a series of three trajectory correction maneuvers that will put the DART on a precise path to Didymos. Then, approximately 24 hours after impact, DART will take control to fine-tune its final approach.

“By first seeing DRACO’s images of Didymos, we can determine the best settings for DRACO and fine-tune the software,” Julie Bellerose, head of DART navigation at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said in the same statement. “In September, we will refine where DART is targeting by getting a more accurate location of Didymos.”

Since these pictures were taken, DRACO had checked Didymos three more times.

DART will collide with Dimorphos on September 26 at 19:14 EST (2314 GMT).

Follow Stefanie Waldek on Twitter @StefanieWaldek. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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