NASA’s DART mission will be a key test for planetary defense.

The DART spacecraft will smash into its target asteroid, Dimorphos, on Monday, September 26. It will carry out the very first test of the kinetic impact technique, which utilizes a spacecraft to deflect an asteroid’s trajectory.

It will be another historic first for NASA, which will conduct the very first planetary defense test in space. If all goes to plan, the test will provide evidence that we can avert a hypothetical hazardous asteroid away from Earth with current technologies.

 

The DART spacecraft has already captured images of its target asteroid. Now, it has also captured a spectacular image of Jupiter and its four largest moons, NASA reveals in a blog post. These images are a crucial part of the DART team’s pre-impact preparations.

NASA’s DART spacecraft captures stunning Jupiter image

NASA says the DART spacecraft’s imager, the Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation (DRACO), has taken thousands of pictures of stars as it makes its way toward Dimorphos, the tiny moon of asteroid Didymos.

Those images weren’t taken purely for observational reasons. NASA’s DART mission team pointed the DRACO imager towards Jupiter on July 1 and August 2 to detect and target Jupiter’s moon Europa as it emerged from behind Jupiter. This allowed the team to carry out a real-life assess DRACO’s capacity to detect one large space object appearing from behind another, as will be the case with Dimorphos, which orbits Didymos.

 

 

“The Jupiter tests gave us the opportunity for DRACO to image something in our own solar system,” said Carolyn Ernst, DRACO instrument scientist at APL. “The images look fantastic, and we are excited for what DRACO will reveal about Didymos and Dimorphos in the hours and minutes leading up to impact!”

DRACO will help the spacecraft’s autonomous guidance system to track the target asteroid up until the final moments before impact. Prior to the Jupiter imaging test, all tests of that type had only been carried out in simulations.