NASA is planning to smash a battering ram spacecraft into a huge asteroid to test whether it could deflect any future civilization-killer asteroids from colliding with the Earth later this month.
Now, as its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft bears down on its target, the binary asteroid system Didymos is classified as a “potentially hazardous” near-Earth object.
The small capsule is slated to impact a tiny moonlet called Dimorphos, a small natural satellite of the larger Didymos asteroid, on September 26.
It’s an important occasion, as the collision will mark the first time we’ve ever attempted to deflect an asteroid, potentially establishing a new way for humanity to protect itself from a destructive impact in the future.
While DART was able to pick up the asteroid system with its navigation camera, called the Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation (DRACO), it still has 20 million miles to go, according to NASA.
“This first set of images is being used as a test to prove our imaging techniques,” said DART mission systems engineer Elena Adams in a statement.
During its last four hours of existence, DART will have to adjust its trajectory on its own to ensure a successful impact with Dimoprhos.
“The quality of the image is similar to what we could obtain from ground-based telescopes, but it is important to show that DRACO is working properly and can see its target to make any adjustments needed before we begin using the images to guide the spacecraft into the asteroid autonomously,” Adams added.
Over the next three weeks, DART will perform three trajectory correction maneuvers and smash itself into a million pieces to save humanity.