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NASA Studying Asteroid Behavior Ahead of Planetary Defense Test Launch in 2021

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NASA is facilitating observations of a binary asteroid and its small moonlet to serve as the target for the Double Asteroid Redirection Test intended to demonstrate kinetic impact for planetary defense, NASA said Monday.

The agency is studying the behavior of the asteroid Didymos A and its moonlet Didymos B using telescopes at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., as well as other locations around the world. Researchers integrated a DRACO imaging system and a cube satellite from the Italian Space Agency to observe the asteroid’s movements more effectively.

“The Didymos system is too small and too far to be seen as anything more than a point of light, but we can get the data we need by measuring the brightness of that point of light, which changes as Didymos A rotates and Didymos B orbits,” noted Andy Rivkin, DART investigation team co-lead for APL. 

NASA expects the DART spacecraft to intercept the smaller asteroid’s orbit and crash into the moonlet in September 2022. The agency last month selected SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle to propel the spacecraft from Vanderberg Air Force Base in California in June 2021.