SpaceX launches a NASA spaceship that will crash into an asteroid

Elon Musk’s SpaceX will launch a world’s first planetary defense mission for NASA in the early hours of Wednesday morning and send the spacecraft on its way to deliberately crash into an asteroid.

“We’re crashing into an asteroid,” said Omar Baez, executive launch director of NASA’s Launch Services Program, during a press conference. “I can’t believe we’re doing this”

The space agency known as the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (or DART) mission is trying to learn “how to counter a threat that would come to Earth,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, assistant administrator of NASA’s directorate of science missions.

“Rest assured that rock is not a threat at the moment,” he said.

SpaceX launches DART on a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California with a launch window that begins Wednesday at 1:20 p.m. ET.

DART is a 610 kilogram space probe that will travel for 10 months to two asteroids called Didymos and Dimorphos. The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland built DART, while the space company Redwire controlled the spacecraft’s navigation and solar cells that power it.

The aim of the mission is to hit the smaller of the two asteroids, Dimorphos, with the spacecraft at a speed of about 25,000 miles per hour and see how the impact changes the asteroid’s trajectory.

The DART mission will cost NASA about $ 330 million in total, with SpaceX winning a $ 69 million contract for launch in 2019. Not only is it NASA’s first planetary defense mission, but DART is SpaceX’s first mission to launch a spaceship to another planetary body.

“This is just the coolest mission. Thank you for enabling SpaceX to be part of a really important planetary defense mission, ”said Julianna Scheiman, SpaceX Director of Civil Satellite Missions, during a press conference.

SpaceX Test fired its Falcon 9 rocket last Friday in preparation for launch.

To give a sense of size, the asteroid Dimorphos is roughly the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza, while the asteroid Didymos is larger in diameter than the tall tower of One World Trade Center in New York City. Upon arrival on the asteroid and before it hits Dimorphos, the DART spacecraft will deploy a small cube satellite to take photos of the impact event.

While the mission is testing a method for planetary defense, Zurbuchen emphasized that NASA is not aware of any short-term risks to Earth. There are billions of asteroids and comets orbiting the Sun, but few have a chance of hitting Earth for a very long time.

“Of all the near-Earth objects we know today, none of them will pose a threat within 100 years or so,” said Zurbuchen.