Dart has left, the first mission to attempt to deflect an asteroid. The launch this morning at 7:21 Italian time from the Vandenberg base in California, aboard a Falcon 9 rocket.

The spacecraft will now begin its long journey of more than 10 million kilometers, in 11 months, to strike and deflect the trajectory of a 170-meter-diameter asteroid. Dart (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) will be a test bed to evaluate the ability to deflect a potentially dangerous asteroid. Italy is also on board with LiciaCube, a “photojournalist” microsatellite that will have to film the impact to evaluate its success.

Dart is a mission of "planetary protection" as it will be used to test on a non-dangerous asteroid, in this case Dimorphos, the possibility of deflecting a large rocky object possibly dangerous for the Earth by hitting it with a probe launched at high speed. During its journey, the spacecraft will be accelerated by a mix of “traditional” propulsion engines and innovative ion thrusters: the aim is to impact the asteroid at a speed of 21,000 kilometers per hour.

It is estimated that the collision will produce an almost imperceptible variation in Dimorphos' speed, of just 0.4 millimeters per second, but that over time will translate into a major change from the initial trajectory.

About 10 days before the impact, LiciaCube will be released, a small satellite entirely built in Italy by Argotec, on behalf of and in collaboration with the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and managed by researchers coordinated by the National Institute of Astrophysics (Inaf). .

Once separated from Dart, LiciaCube will move to a safe position and with the best view to observe the impact of the probe with Dimorphos. The two onboard cameras will be essential to document the last moments of Dart and above all to measure the effects, initially very small, that the impact will have on the asteroid's trajectory.

(Unioneonline / vl)

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