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NASA's first flight mission for planetary defense, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) seeks to test and validate a method to protect Earth in case of an asteroid impact threat. The DART mission aims to shift an asteroid's orbit through kinetic impact – specifically, by smashing a spacecraft into the smaller member of the binary asteroid system Didymos.
The Didymos asteroid system is comprised of Didymos and its small, orbiting moonlet, Dimorphos. In 2022, DART will pummel into the latter, a boulder about 160 meters (525 feet) in diameter, and change its orbital period around Didymos by about 10 minutes. Using ground-based telescope observations prior to and after impact, scientists will be able to compare Dimorphos' path around Didymos to determine how much the orbit has changed.
Launching in 2021, the DART mission is designed to demonstrate a critical planetary defense capability. With less than a year until launch, DART is currently coming together at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. APL leads the DART mission for NASA.