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DART Team Earns National Space Club and Foundation Aerospace Award

Members of the DART team celebrate on Sept. 26, 2022, as images livestreamed from the spacecraft show it successfully impacted the asteroid Dimorphos, completing the world’s first planetary defense test mission. Credit: Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

In recognition of its successful completion of the world’s first planetary defense test mission, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) has earned the National Space Club and Foundation’s Nelson P. Jackson Aerospace Award, which honors the previous year’s most outstanding contribution to the missile, aircraft or space field.

Designed, built and operated by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO), which oversees the agency’s ongoing efforts in planetary defense, DART was humanity’s first mission to intentionally move a celestial object, impacting the asteroid Dimorphos on Sept. 26, 2022. DART’s successful collision with Dimorphos changed the asteroid’s orbit around its companion asteroid, Didymos, by a whopping 33 minutes.

“DART is an exciting demonstration of one method of asteroid deflection and proved we have technology capable of deflecting an asteroid with a kinetic impactor spacecraft if the need ever arose,” said Lindley Johnson, NASA’s Planetary Defense Officer at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “But to effectively deflect an asteroid on a collision course with our planet with something like DART we must first find it, which is why accelerating efforts to find asteroids that could pose a threat to Earth continues to be a top priority of NASA’s planetary defense efforts.”

Launched in 2021 from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, NASA’s DART spacecraft traveled for 10 months on its one-way trip to Dimorphos. Immediately following DART’s successful collision with its target asteroid, the team began analyzing data from ground-based telescopes and radar facilities worldwide to understand the efficiency of the momentum transfer from DART’s impact.

In conjunction with the images returned by DART’s onboard Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation (DRACO), the Italian Space Agency’s Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids (LICIACube), and NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, Hubble Space Telescope and Lucy spacecraft, the data is helping scientists understand the compositional nature of Dimorphos’ surface, how much material was ejected by the collision, how fast it was ejected and the distribution of particle sizes in the subsequent dust cloud to ultimately determine how effectively a kinetic impactor spacecraft can modify an asteroid’s orbit. The DART team recently published the first scientific analyses of the impact event.

“This is a well-deserved recognition of a team whose tireless and meticulous preparation resulted in a mission that exceeded all expectations and inspired people across the globe,” said Bobby Braun, head of APL’s Space Exploration Sector. “I am exceedingly proud of the talented scientists and engineers whose dedicated efforts made humanity’s first planetary defense test mission possible. The data returned from DART will inform future planetary defense efforts to guard our planet from a potential calamitous impact.”

The 2023 Jackson Award will be presented to representatives of the DART team during the annual Goddard Memorial Dinner on March 10. It will be the second project sponsored by the PDCO to receive the award. The first was NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies, which earned the award last year.

APL manages the DART mission for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, as a project of the agency’s Planetary Missions Program Office.

The National Space Club and Foundation bridges industry and government to foster excellence in space activity. A panel of experts from the aerospace and defense industries, government and academia selected the DART mission for the honor, which is named for the club’s founder and past president, Nelson Pete Jackson.