Has NASA’s DART Hit the Bullseye?

Sammie Oei ‘25

NASA has had multiple space missions and spacecraft go down in history for their accomplishments like the Hubble Space Telescope, Apollo 11, and the International Space Station [1]. Could this be the next one? On September 26, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft hit an asteroid called Dimorphos. This kind of mission was the first of its kind in the world, and its goal was finding possibilities for planetary protection in the future [2, 3].


First launched into space on November 23, 2021, the DART Spacecraft traveled a long 10 months to reach its target 6.8 million miles away from Earth. Its target, Dimorphos, is a small asteroid orbiting a much larger asteroid known as Didymos. Prior to the collision, it would take approximately 11 hours and 55 minutes for Dimorphos to complete its orbit. However, after a collision with Dimorphos at 14,000 miles an hour, researchers hoped that 10 minutes would be taken off of this time. This technique is called kinetic impact – the intentional collision of a spacecraft into an asteroid in order to move it [2, 3, 4].


All of this was monitored from many different perspectives. John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory was where the mission was being controlled from. To get a closer look at what happened, they also used many cameras. For example, the LICIACube, or Light Italian Cubesat for Imaging Asteroids, was deployed from the DART spacecraft 15 days prior to the collision to take pictures of the effect of the collision. To do this, the cubesat contained two different cameras named LUKE and LEIA. The LUKE camera took wide view images, whereas the LEIA camera took high resolution, black and white images. The DART spacecraft also contained a camera named DRACO, standing for Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation. Located on the spacecraft, it took images of Dimorphous’ surface right before the collision [4, 5].


Although this adds up to an expensive total of $324.6 million, NASA has recently reported that the mission was a success, as the asteroid’s orbit was changed. Astronomers had monitored the change through telescopes, and have confirmed that the time of the orbit has lessened by about 32 minutes. However, this does not necessarily mean that this is the end of the test [6, 7].


After a few weeks, researchers and astronomers have come to see what impact DART had on Dimorphos. Their next step is to understand what factors led to what results and how to improve this test for the future. For example, they are looking at the efficiency of the transfer of momentum, especially the impact of ejecta, the recoil of displaced rock. In addition to this, in about 4 years, the Hera Project, which is run by the European Space Agency, will look at the crater DART left behind [7].


In conclusion, the DART mission successfully altered the orbit of an asteroid, providing evidence that this could be a usable form of planetary protection if it was ever needed in the future. To ensure its success, it took a lot of money, but these expenses could help protect the safety of our Earth later.



[1] https://www.slashgear.com/the-15-most-groundbreaking-nasa-missions-11705988/ 

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/25/science/nasa-dart-asteroid.html 

[3] https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/missions/dart/in-depth/ 

[4] https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-s-dart-mission-hits-asteroid-in-first-ever-planetary-defense-test 

[5] https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/nasa-dart-photos-asteroid-impact-mission-rcna49621 

[6] https://www.planetary.org/space-missions/dart 

[7] https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-confirms-dart-mission-impact-changed-asteroid-s-motion-in-space