As you know, NASA will soon send a DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) impact probe to the binary asteroid system in order to rehearse how to correct the course of asteroids that pose a threat to our planet. How the orbit of an asteroid knocked off course will change has already been studied in all details, but how exactly the knocked out asteroid will behave was not known. Today such a model is presented, and it raises concerns about the appearance of a mass of unaccounted for factors.

The DART probe is approaching an asteroid as seen by the artist. Image source: NASA

The launch of the DART probe, the size of a car and weighing over 350 kg, was scheduled for July 22, 2021. For a number of reasons, the launch has been postponed to November 24, but may be postponed until February next year (the launch windows are strictly defined). It will take about a year to approach the asteroid Didim with a diameter of about 800 m and the 150-meter asteroid Dimorf circling around it. The probe at a speed of 6.5 km / s will have to crash into a small asteroid approximately in its center and cause a controlled change in its orbit. The probe will crash, and the process will be followed for several minutes by a small Italian satellite thrown out before this, which, alas, will quickly leave the collision zone and disappear into space forever.

Dimorph’s orbit will not change very much, but noticeably enough to detect changes. Two cubesats of the Hera project, which will be sent to the asteroids a few years later, will be able to record and confirm these changes (the processes will be very slow, so there is no point in rushing to the collision site).

Recently, in the Icarus edition, a group of scientists from the University of Maryland presented for the first time a model of Dimorph’s behavior after a collision with a DART probe. “He can start to somersault and go into a chaotic state, – said the head of the project Harrison Agrusa (Harrison Agrusa). – It was a really big surprise. “

Rotation not included in the rehearsal program will create some interesting problems. First, it will increase the difficulty of landing on the asteroid, which ESA hopes to accomplish with two small spacecraft as part of the Hera mission. Second, it also promises to complicate future attempts to deflect a dangerous asteroid for Earth, since any rotation could affect its trajectory in space.

In any case, scientists need a clear understanding of the behavior of space objects in the implementation of projects to reflect the asteroid hazard. The DART mission will make it possible to understand in practice a number of important aspects, and there is nothing more valuable than experience.

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