DART Mission Launched to Test “Armageddon” Asteroid Deflection Capability

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Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Following recent concerns that the risk of dangerous Asteroid impacts may have been underestimated, NASA appears to be stepping up its plans to develop the capability to deflect inbound space rocks.
NASA DART MISSION LAUNCHES TO SEE IF IT CAN SHUNT AN ASTEROID AND SAVE US FROM ARMAGEDDON
Andrew Griffin
Nasa has successfully launched its Dart mission, which aims to crash into an asteroid and see whether it could save us from destruction.
The robot spacecraft launched as planned on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 10.20pm local pacific time from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the California coast, about 150 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
The Dart mission will test Nasa’s ability to alter an asteroid’s trajectory with kinetic force – crashing a robot spacecraft into it at high speed and nudging the space boulder just enough to keep our planet out of harm’s way.

Dart’s target is an asteroid “moonlet” the size of a football stadium that orbits a much larger chunk of rock – about five times bigger – in a binary asteroid system named Didymos, the Greek word for twin.
The moonlet, called Dimorphos, is one of the smallest astronomical objects to receive a permanent name. But at 525 feet (160 km) in diameter, its size is typical among the known asteroids – rubble-like remnants left over from formation of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago.
Scientists chose the Didymos system because its relative proximity to Earth and dual-asteroid configuration make it ideal to observe the results of the impact.

I’m glad someone is finally taking this problem seriously. City buster impactors or worse are extremely unlikely on human timescales, even if scientists are still discussing exactly where to put the decimal point. But unlikely is not zero risk – its worth a few million to ensure we have the capability to address such a threat if it arises.
Over at the Cosmic Tusk are mentioned 2 new movies, Greenland and Don’t Look up, both about incoming objects. Only Greenland actually shows the real threat – a comet tail of rubble like the Taurid Stream 1 and 2.
We got hit by such a tail in the Holocene.
The difference between a cannon ball and a shotgun, all at hypervelocity.
Airbursts of such debris – witness Chelyabinsk, Tunguska, are well studied.
What NASA has planned for that I do not know – but it will have to involve nukes.
Nice graphic here :
https://phys.org/news/2021-11-nasa-spacecraft-asteroid.html
We pass through comet tails every time we have a meteor shower. Comet tails just have gas and dust, few if any big rocks.
2 new videos at :
https://cosmictusk.com/taurid-meteors-past-and-future-threat-to-life/
DART will take a year to reach target. Nuclear rockets are needed to hit them with less warning, not just explosives.
And the amount of money currently being spent to develop nuclear rockets is . . .?
Right – just imagine the mad rush in a real situation.
Right – which mad rush will be far too late to meet the need.
How much was being spent when JFK made his 10 year plan?
Lesson :
Mars in 3 weeks with engines running all the time not just for 6 minutes means no mad rush in an emergency. Mars means 1g acceleration then 1g braking. A comet means 10g, no braking and major kinetic impact, a precursor shock, then fuse that.
A whole different ball game!
Sometimes, development of new technology just takes time . . . it’s commonly referred to “coming up the learning curve” . . . and no amount of money beyond a critical amount can significantly accelerate the time span needed.
If nuclear rockets could be developed so quickly (say in less than 10 years) and yield the results that you envision in your post, why hasn’t NASA done this already?
Moreover, why didn’t NASA devote the funds spent on the DART Program to this critical development?
The basic reason is that every time anyone mentions NASA or the DoD launching anything nuclear into space, the anti-nuclear crowd goes into high-gear, picketing launch sites and descending on Congress. Now, the Government has launched nuclear powerpacks on satellites, but a nuclear-powered space craft is just politically unpalatable, just as as nuclear power on the grid.
I seem to recall a geat deal of flack from certain quarters about deploying well developed “nuclear” battery technology in long distance space missions.
Nuke batteries already work on Mars. Not the same as a fusion engine.
Have you any idea what happened on 22/11/63 ? Declassify now as Trump said, with Biden delaying 1 year.
Like the sudden turn toward nuclear power stations in the UK, due to rising gas prices?
If I recall correctly, one issue is whether asteroids have enough structural integrity to hold together after an impact.
I think those concerns have been amplified after the recent sampling missions. There appear to be some large individual rocks in asteroids, but not a lot of structure.
A lot depends on the history of the asteroid. If the asteroid formed by smaller rocks collecting together, they will just be a rubble pile. Other asteroids formed when larger objects got smashed into smaller pieces. If the original larger object was large enough that the energy of it’s formation was enough to start melting the rocks, then the asteroid is going to be solid.
There are theories as to how many asteroids fall into either category, but until we can get up close and personal with a lot of asteroids, it’s still just a guess.
diverted from original, no real danger trajectory, to raining down on you head.
“If I recall correctly, one issue is whether asteroids have enough structural integrity to hold together after an impact.”
We might have to use a gravitational tug technique on rubble piles.
The gravitational tug flies near the asteriod and stays there permanently, and its small gravitational pull will eventually change the orbit of the asteriod.
This would not be a short-term fix, it would take time to change the orbit, so NASA needs to get their asteriod spotting up to speed, so we can spot problematic asteriods in time to do something about them.
As I recall, their calculations showed that an ion engine, for example, could change the asteroid’s path more than a collision, but of course would take more time and need more planning. How realistic any of these plans are is a different matter.
But what effect does global warming have on asteroid strikes?
Obviously driving SUVs attracts asteroids
Obviously, more CO2 in the atmosphere makes the atmosphere thicker. That should provide more protection from asteroids. <insert smiley face>
No no no! More atmosphere means more captures. It’s worse than we thought. 😉
It’s all caused by Elon Musks red Tesla orbiting out there.
A far likelier reason why aliens might seek to destroy humanity…
Sa,e effect it has on solar output, I believe.
Hopefully there is success in this mission. If thr kinetic approach fails will the try to destroy on , or possibly land some form of rocket booster
The problem with rocket booster is that if the asteroid is just a rubble pile, a rocket booster runs the risk of just punching through the pile when it is turned on.
I think the surest way to handle an asteroid you haven’t had time to study is what they call a gravity tug. Place an object near enough to the asteroid that gravity starts to pull the two objects together. Have a rocket motor on the object so that you can keep the object at a set distance from the target asteroid. Then let gravity pull the asteroid into a safe orbit. Since gravity affects all parts of the asteroid more or less equally, you don’t have to worry about rubble piles being pulled apart.
I thought that one advantage of the tug as opposed to a push was better control of the direction. A pusher would have to land, and then continually re-orient itself even if the rubble pile stayed together.
Another problem with pushers is that most asteroids are rotating.
another problem is the huge mass difference between an earth made rocket boaster, or atomic bomb, and an rock big enough to be a real threat.
There we have an innocent little asteroid going about its celestial business, innocently staying in its own orbit, when along comes a psycho who knocks him(OK-her) over and accidentally changes his/her orbit. Next thing we know, it won’t be a climate emergency but a deep impact one. 🙂
Worse still, we change its course enough that in a few million years it hits some other planet, who’s life forms get all perturbed, and a few million years later, develop FTL drive, and invade our planet.
But, due to a horrible miscalculation of scale, their entire battle fleet is swallowed by a small dog. (h/t Douglas Adams)
The Dart mission will test Nasa’s ability to alter an asteroid’s trajectory with kinetic force – crashing a robot spacecraft into it at high speed and nudging the space boulder just enough to keep our planet out of harm’s way.”
Sounds like a mission to cause unintended consequences… Like causing Dimorphos to orbit elsewhere and likely collide with a planet.
Sounds like a mission to cause unintended consequences… Like causing Dimorphos to orbit elsewhere and likely collide with a planet.
The DART mission impactor is far too small to significantly change the dual asteroid system’s orbit around the Sun. This moonlet was chosen because the small expected change of momentum could be very precisely measured by seeing how its orbit around Didymos is altered. That is a very subtle effect that can be monitored much more easily than trying to see the effects of a tiny change in velocity around the Sun.
Good points.
Blowing an asteroid into pieces (or blowing a significant chunk off) soon enough before it would hit Earth would not produce a shotgun of collisions, but cause a clear miss of most if not all of the pieces. Any explosion that removes even one large chunk or many smaller pieces that constitute a significant fraction of the mass of the asteroid would cause either a slowing or speeding up from the previous trajectory or cause a lateral velocity of the pieces, including the main body, of from a fraction to several meters per sec. Any change would cause the segments to arrive too soon, too late or miss to the side if enough time remained before collision. As an example a change of 1 meter/sec in any direction over 1 year time moves the object 31,500 km (19,600 miles) from the previous trajectory location and easily misses Earth. Remember Earth is moving also and orbits cross only at 1 point and one time.
I want to point out that this only works if the time to collision is large enough. You can’t do any good in the few days or even weeks before collision. You need months unless the object is small enough to blow all od it in small pieces with very high velocities away from the initial trajectory.
Assuming the asteroid is close enough that most of the fragments still hit the earth.
I would think having a few hundred air bursts scattered all over one side of the planet would be preferable to having one city killing sized crater,
1) If the asteroid is that close, we would have a general idea where on the planet it was going to strike.
2) If the asteroid lands in the oceans, it would cause a massive tsunami that would wipe out anything that lives within a few miles of the coast.
3) Even if only 10% of the asteroids mass missed the earth and the speed of the asteroid was reduced by a few percent, the total energy striking the earth is still reduced.
Depending on the distance even small impacts are enough to change the direction so it misses the target,
therefore i absolutely do not understand why it should be blown into pieces?
A simple shockwave should be enough to get the wanted effect.
The object keeps its integrity and keeps its observable size. Blowing up into 1000 pieces can reduce its quality but increase the quantity of objects.
I beieve Leonard is presuming that the asteroid is too close for a gentle nudge to be sufficient.
If thats the case than I’m ok with his argument as thats the only remaining option .
Quote:NASA appears to be stepping up its plans to develop the capability to deflect inbound space rocks”
Methinks an ‘inbound squirrel‘ deflection system would be much more useful
maybe its coz they’re all nuts at NASA, is that what’s attracting so many recently?
Be wary of squirrels – the can carry the Pest!
I’m sorry, what scale are we using here?
525′ is 160m not 160km
This is cool, if it works. I am curious to see the results.
About bloody time we tested these ideas.
I like the chosen image for the article. I generally am only thinking about the ejecta when the topic of an asteroid strike comes up.
This image shows a big ol’ shock wave propagating through the Earth. That isn’t discussed much. Mostly the effects on the atmosphere are considered.
But a massive shock wave would sure cause a lot of wiggling and jiggling in faults and unstable mountainsides, let alone the bulge in the Earth opposite of the strike.
👍 👍 Good image choice.
Let’s see . . . how many tens of $millions will that be for a simple demonstration of the law of conservation of momentum for two bodies experiencing an inelastic collision in space?
Oh, yeah, right, there probably will be a little bit of propulsive energy obtained from the volatiles generated at the impact site. However, since (a) those gases would be emitted hemispherically (not going through a rocket nozzle) directly into the vacuum of space, and (b) since it takes relatively large amounts of kinetic energy to create significant increases in sensible temperature, maybe we’ll learn that we get an additional 2-3% of effective propulsion at the impact site.
Of course, any net propulsive effect will be less if the asteroid is spinning with respect to the spacecraft at the time of impact . . . as a matter of fact, unless the impact vector passes very close to the asteroid’s center of mass, a significant portion of the spacecraft’s impact momentum will be transformed into rotational momentum, not translational momentum. Increasing/decreasing any asteroid’s rotational momentum will not act to “deflect” the asteroid from its pre-impact orbital path.
Lastly, we’ll obtain the impact’s orbital-change information for a single class (composition) of asteroid for a single impact-vector-versus-asteroid-center-of-mass condition . . . how many other classes of asteroids might be on a future collision course with Earth?
I’m not saying that the science behind this program is not interesting, but I am questioning it’s  raison d’être versus cost.
NASA has the luxury to wait 1 year for the impact test.
A real threat would quickly escalate to DEFCON1, dusting off a few 100Mt thermonuclear bombs. I am sure SpaceX would have no trouble launching, no matter what space-greenies would say.
The problem is the travel time. Musk cannot deliver right now. We need nuclear engines that run for weeks hitting quite high speed. One could even use kinetic impact as well.
Another problem here is the misconception that nuclear fission or fusion bombs create a lot of blast force in space conditions.
In reality, most of the energy release from supercritical fission or fusion reactions appears in the form of radiation across the X-ray to gamma-ray spectrum. Without a surrounding atmosphere, a nuclear detonation in space will heat up surrounding things a bit, but not cause any blast effect.
Then vaporize the rubble heap itself – use kinetic impact then fuse.
Take the temperature later.
. . . and exactly how many 100 Mt thermonuclear bombs have you calculated will be required to vaporize just one small asteroid the size of, say, Dimorphos (525 ft across), the target of the Dart mission?
Don’t need to vaporize the whole thing. The vaporized rock leaving the surface will push the asteroid in the opposite direction, deflecting it.
also, nobody has any 100 Mt nukes. 1 Mt is launchable and would suffice.
How about a large billboard on the dark side of the moon :
WARNING – YOU ARE ENTERING AN ASTEROID FREE ZONE!
They put those about guns and drugs around schools and it works, right?
?
We need to take the feelings of the asteroid into account. I propose these measures.
1) We don’t call them “Asteroids” any more. That has such a negative connotation. From now on we should call them “Heavenly Bodies With Roids”.
2) I propose a vigorous, and I do mean vigorous, leaflet campaign (h/t Arnold Rimmer). This would encourage the Heavenly Body With Roids to choose another path in life, something more meaningful and fulfilling, like slamming into that bastard Jupiter instead.
Let us call the real 100 Megaton thermonuclear ‘Roid-buster warhead Woke 1.
That should pass even a Senate Hearing.
‘Roid-buster is an unfortunate phrase.
Hey, it’s not like we haven’t previously done something similar to this.
Beginning with the Apollo 13 mission in 1970, a total of five S-IVBs were sent to impact the lunar surface (see https://www.space.com/31503-apollo-16-moon-rocket-crash-site-photo.html ). The S-IVB was the third stage of the Saturn V rocket that eventually landed a total of 12 astronauts on the Moon.
Obviously, we knew the orbit of the moon (more specifically, its orbital ephemeris) very precisely even before the Apollo program. We know the Moon’s current orbital ephemeris very precisely.
You mean to tell me that, as of today, nobody can mine this data to establish how effective a vehicle impacting a body in space can be with respect to altering its orbit?
Or maybe it’s just too much fun to launch new missions, rather than do “boring” data analysis? 🙂
That was the almost forgotten era of space travel. Obama killed Constellation, and now Biden delayed Artemis (or NASA). Trump was right.
Let us see if if DART still functions after 1 year in deep space…
That’s what I was thinking. Isn’t data analysis and computer simulations good enough like for stockpile stewardship?
Hitchhiker’s Guide – Earth Destroyed and Guide Introduction (HD) 4min
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1Ba4BbH0oY
Even worse than the announcement is the Vogon Captain’s poetry recitation!
Interesting side note. The DART mission was going to be combined with other payloads to save costs until SpaceX gave NASA a price launching it with Falcon 9 as a standalone payload that was cheaper. By reusing boosters (128 launches with 70 reflown) and launching large numbers of missions annually, SpaceX has really gotten the costs down.
The legacy rocket builders like Boeing are still in existence only due the US government and their continuing inability to get Starliner to the pad may be the final nail in the coffin. In the meantime there are startups planning to use 3D printed rockets, air launches and even a giant centrifugal sling to launch smaller payloads. Goes to show the benefit of individual effort over bureaucratic organizations.
NASA did all that and more , with 440,000 staff.
Next step Mars in 3 weeks – no private firm will take that risk. Let them later get costs down, first let us get serious new engines running.
Ummm . . . did you mean to say 3D printed select parts for rockets?
I have yet to see a 3D-printed hydraulic actuator assembly (it’s hard to print elastomeric o-ring seals and parts that move inside other parts), nor a 3D-printed ball bearing assembly.
3D-printed whole rockets? . . . Pffthptffff!
h/t Cosmic Tusk : Petrov on Comet Enke :
Breakup of a Giant Comet 20000 Years Ago Linked to Tunguska Event and 88 Asteroids

Well, I don’t know how to embed Youtube, so here it is as a link. Breakin’ up is hard to do.
https://youtu.be/tbad22CKlB4
I am worried – are those asteroids a part of environment?
Is such deflection any good for environment?
Why are you deflecting the topic of the article?
Because asteroids, like “climate change”, are a more immediate threat than the Chinese military. 🤪
Typo in the article. 525ft =0.16km not 160 kms
This seems pointless. Knowing the mass and velocities of both the asteroid and the impactor, the change in velocity of the asteroid is almost precisely known without the test. This impactor is probably too small to eject much material or break up the asteroid. So what are they hoping to learn from this?
Theoretically, if you insert a nudge mass like a rocket into the asteroid system, all asteroids will feel some gravity change and will all move to seek a new equilibrium. Can we foresee huge computer simulations of real time readjustments to keep us informed of the latest asteroid with a threatening path? Yes, I know this force perturbation is tiny, I am being theoretical. You do that when you have no apparatus with which to be practical. Geoff S
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