Double Asteroid Redirection Test

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) is a NASA space mission aimed at testing a method of planetary defense against near-Earth objects (NEOs). In September 2022, a space probe is set to deliberately crash into the minor-planet moon Dimorphos of the double asteroid Didymos to assess the future potential of a spacecraft impact to deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth through a transference of momentum.

Double Asteroid Redirection Test
Dart header 2 (1).jpg
The DART impactor and CubeSat just before impact with Dimorphos (illustration)
Mission typePlanetary defense mission
OperatorNASA  / APL
COSPAR ID2021-110A
SATCAT no.49497
Mission duration11 months (planned),
6 days and 15 hours (in progress)
Spacecraft properties
Spacecraft typeDouble Asteroid Redirection Test
ManufacturerApplied Physics Laboratory
of Johns Hopkins University
Launch massDART: 610 kg (1,340 lb),
LICIACube: 14 kg (31 lb)
DimensionsDART: 1.8 × 1.9 × 2.6 m (5 ft 11 in × 6 ft 3 in × 8 ft 6 in)
ROSA: 8.5 × 2.4 m (27.9 × 7.9 ft) (each)
Power6.6 kW
Start of mission
Launch date24 November 2021, 06:21:02 UTC
RocketFalcon 9 Block 5, B1063.3
Launch siteVandenberg, SLC-4E
Dimorphos impactor
Impact date26 September 2022 (planned)
Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation (DRACO)
DART Mission Patch.png
DART mission patch  

DART is a joint project between NASA and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). It is being administered by NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office, and several NASA laboratories and offices are providing technical support. International partners, such as the space agencies of European Space Agency (ESA), Italian Space Agency (ASI), and JAXA Japan, are contributing to related or subsequent projects. In August 2018, NASA approved the project to start the final design and assembly phase. The DART spacecraft was successfully launched on 24 November 2021, with collision slated for 26 September 2022.[1][2]


Originally, the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA had independent plans for missions to test asteroid deflection strategies, and by 2015 they struck a collaboration called AIDA (Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment) involving two separate spacecraft launches that work in synergy.[3][4][5] Under the proposal, the European spacecraft, AIM, would have launched in December 2020, and DART in July 2021. AIM would have orbited the larger asteroid to study its composition and that of its moon. DART would then impact the asteroid's moon in September 2022, during a close approach to Earth.[4] AIM would have studied the asteroid's strength, surface physical properties, and internal structure, as well as measure the effect on the asteroid moon's orbit around the larger asteroid.[citation needed]

The AIM orbiter was cancelled, the full characterization of the asteroids will not be obtained, and the effects of the impact by DART will be monitored from ground-based telescopes and radar.[6][5]

In June 2017, NASA approved a move from concept development to the preliminary design phase,[7] and in August 2018 NASA approved the project to start the final design and assembly phase.[8]

It was originally planned for DART to be a secondary payload on a commercial launch to keep costs low; however, a mission update presentation in November 2018 noted that the mission has a dedicated launch vehicle.[citation needed]

On 11 April 2019, NASA announced that a SpaceX Falcon 9 would be used to launch DART.[9]

Scientists[who?] estimate 25,000 large asteroids are in the Solar System, though to date, surveys have detected about 8,000; therefore, NASA officials think it is imperative to develop an effective plan should a near-Earth object threaten Earth.[10]


DART ROSA development video
The NASA's Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT) operating in a vacuum chamber.
DART and its spiral RLSA


The DART spacecraft is an impactor with a mass of 610 kg (1,340 lb),[11] that hosts no scientific payload other than a Sun sensor, a star tracker, and a 20 cm (7.9 in) aperture camera called Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation (DRACO). DRACO is based on the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) onboard New Horizons spacecraft, and will support autonomous navigation to impact the asteroid's moon at its center.[citation needed]

DART spacecraft uses the NEXT ion thruster, a type of solar electric propulsion.[6][12] It will be powered by 22 m2 (240 sq ft) solar arrays to generate the ~3.5-kW needed to power the NASA Evolutionary Xenon Thruster–Commercial (NEXT-C) engine.[13]

The spacecraft's solar arrays use a Roll Out Solar Array (ROSA) design, and this was tested on the International Space Station in June 2017 as part of Expedition 52, delivered to the station by the SpaceX CRS-11 commercial cargo mission.[14]

Using ROSA as the structure, a small portion of the DART solar array is configured to demonstrate Transformational Solar Array technology, which has very-high-efficiency solar cells and reflective concentrators providing three times more power than current solar array technology.[15][16]

The DART spacecraft is the first spacecraft to use a new type of high gain communication antenna, that is, a Spiral Radial Line Slot Array (RLSA). The antenna operates at the X-band NASA Deep Space Network (NASA DSN) frequencies of 7.2 and 8.4-GHz. The fabricated antenna exceeds the given requirements and has been tested through environments resulting in a TRL-6 design.[17]


It is estimated that the impact of the 500 kg (1,100 lb)[18] DART at 6.6 km/s (4.1 mi/s) [19][20] will produce a velocity change on the order of 0.4 mm/s, which leads to a small change in trajectory of the asteroid system, but over time, it leads to a large shift of path.[21][4][22][23] Over a span of years, the cumulative trajectory change from such a small change in velocity could mitigate the risk of a hypothetical Earth-bound asteroid hitting Earth.[24] The impact will target the center of figure of Dimorphos and should decrease the orbital period, currently 11.92 hours, by roughly 10 minutes.[11]

The actual velocity change and orbital shift are uncertain. There is a poorly understood "momentum enhancement" effect due to the contribution of recoil momentum from impact ejecta. It is expected that the final momentum transferred to the largest remaining fragment of the asteroid could be up to 3-5 times the incident momentum, and getting good measurements of the effects, which will help refine models of such impacts, is one of the main goals of the mission.[25] Initial estimates of the change in binary orbit period should be known within a week.[26] A detailed reconnaissance and assessment will be performed a few years later by a spacecraft called Hera, approved by ESA in November 2019.[27][28]

Secondary spacecraftEdit

LICIACube CubeSat a companion satellite of DART spacecraft

The Italian Space Agency (ASI) will contribute a secondary spacecraft called LICIACube (Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids), a small CubeSat that will piggyback with DART and will separate 10 days before impact to acquire images of the impact and ejecta as it drifts past the asteroid.[27][29] LICIACube will communicate directly with Earth, sending back images of the ejecta after the Dimorphos flyby.[30] LICIACube is equipped with two optical cameras, dubbed LUKE and LEIA.[31]

Follow-up missionEdit

In a collaborating project, the European Space Agency is developing Hera, a spacecraft that will be launched to Didymos in 2024[32] and arrive in 2027[33] (5 years after DART's impact), to do a detailed reconnaissance and assessment.[32] Hera would carry two CubeSats, Milani and Juventas.[32]

AIDA mission architectureEdit

DART satellite, showing its only instrument, the DRACO camera (illustration)
Host spacecraft Secondary spacecraft Remarks
  • By the Italian Space Agency
  • 6U CubeSat
  • LUKE (LICIACube Unit Key Explorer) Camera and LEIA (LICIACube Explorer Imaging for Asteroid) Camera
Hera Juventas[35][36]
  • By GomSpace and GMV
  • 6U CubeSat orbiter
  • Camera, JuRa monostatic low-frequency radar,[37] accelerometers, and gravimeter [38]
  • Will attempt to land on the asteroid surface[36][38]
  • By Italy/Czech/Finnish consortium
  • 6U CubeSat orbiter
  • VIS/Near-IR spectrometer, volatile analyzer
  • Will characterize Didymos and Dimorphos surface composition and the dust environment around the system
  • Will perform technology demonstration experiments

Mission profileEdit

Shape model of Didymos and its satellite Dimorphos, based on photometric light curve and radar data

Target asteroidEdit

The mission's target is Dimorphos in 65803 Didymos system, a binary asteroid system in which one asteroid is orbited by a smaller one. The primary asteroid (Didymos A) is about 780 m (2,560 ft) in diameter; its small satellite Dimorphos (Didymos B) is about 160 m (520 ft) in diameter in an orbit about 1 km (0.62 mi) from the primary.[6] The mass of the Didymos system is estimated at 528 billion kg, with Dimorphos at 4.8 billion kg.[11] DART will target the smaller asteroid, Dimorphos. Didymos is not an Earth-crossing asteroid, and there is no possibility that the deflection experiment could create an impact hazard.[22][clarification needed]

Preflight preparationsEdit

Falcon 9 rocket's payload fairing being attached NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft on 16 November 2021.
Animation of DART's trajectory
  DART ·   65803 Didymos ·   Earth ·   Sun ·   2001 CB21 ·   3361 Orpheus

Launch preparations for DART began on 20 October 2021, as the spacecraft began fueling at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.[42] The spacecraft arrived at Vandenberg Space Force Base (VSFB) near Lompoc, in early October after a cross-country drive. DART team members have since been preparing the spacecraft for flight, testing the spacecraft's mechanisms and electrical system, wrapping the final parts in multilayer insulation blankets, and practicing the launch sequence from both the launch site and the mission operations center at APL. DART headed to the SpaceX Payload Processing Facility on VSFB on 26 October 2021. Two days later, the team received the green light to fill DART's fuel tank with roughly 50 kg (110 lb) of hydrazine propellant for spacecraft maneuvers and attitude control. DART also carries about 60 kg (130 lb) of xenon for the NEXT-C ion engine. Engineers loaded the xenon before the spacecraft left APL in early October 2021.[43]

Falcon 9 and DART vertical at SLC-4E

Starting on 10 November 2021, engineers mated the spacecraft to the adapter that stacks on top of the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle. The Falcon 9 rocket without the payload fairing rolled for a static fire and later came back to the processing facility again where technicians with SpaceX installed the two halves of the fairing around the spacecraft over the course of two days, November 16 and 17, inside the SpaceX Payload Processing Facility at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California and the ground teams completed a successful Flight Readiness Review later that week with the fairing then attached to the rocket.[44]

A day before launch, the launch vehicle rolled out of the hangar and onto the launch pad at Vandenberg Space Launch Complex 4 (SLC-4E); from there it lifted off to begin DART's journey to the Didymos system and it propelled the spacecraft into space.[43]


The DART spacecraft was launched on 24 November 2021, at 06:21:02 UTC.

Early planning suggested that DART was planned to be deployed into a high altitude, high eccentricity Earth orbit designed to avoid the Moon. In such a scenario, DART would use its low thrust, high efficiency NEXT ion engine to slowly escape from its high Earth orbit to a slightly inclined near-Earth solar orbit, from which it would maneuver onto a collision trajectory with its target. But because DART was launched as a dedicated Falcon 9 mission, the payload along with Falcon 9's second stage was placed directly on an Earth escape trajectory and into heliocentric orbit when the second stage reignited for a second engine startup or escape burn. Thus, although DART carries a first-of-its-kind electric thruster and plenty of xenon fuel, Falcon 9 did almost all of the work, leaving the spacecraft to perform only a few trajectory-correction burns with simple chemical thrusters as it homes in on Didymos's moon Dimorphos.[45]


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "SpaceX ready for first launch with NASA interplanetary mission". Spaceflight Now. 22 November 2021. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
  2. ^ "DART Launch Moves to Secondary Window". NASA. 17 February 2021. Retrieved 24 November 2021.   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  3. ^ AIDA DART Home page at APL
  4. ^ a b c "Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment (AIDA) study". Archived from the original on 7 June 2015.
  5. ^ a b DART at Applied Physics Laboratory Johns Hopkins University
  6. ^ a b c Planetary Defense: Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) Mission NASA 2017   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  7. ^ Brown, Geoff; University, Johns Hopkins. "NASA plans to test asteroid deflection technique designed to prevent Earth impact".
  8. ^ Asteroid-deflection mission passes key development milestone 7 September 2018
  9. ^ "NASA Awards Launch Services Contract for Asteroid Redirect Test Mission". NASA. 12 April 2019. Retrieved 12 April 2019.   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  10. ^ NASA is planning an asteroid deflection test mission in case the unthinkable happens Science Alert 5 July 2017
  11. ^ a b c "Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART)". NASA. 28 October 2021. Retrieved 5 November 2021.   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  12. ^ Kantsiper, Brian (2017). "The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission electric propulsion trade". 2017 IEEE Aerospace Conference. pp. 1–7. doi:10.1109/AERO.2017.7943736. ISBN 978-1-5090-1613-6. S2CID 43072949.
  13. ^ Adams, Elena; Oshaughnessy, Daniel; Reinhart, Matthew; John, Jeremy; Congdon, Elizabeth; Gallagher, Daniel; Abel, Elisabeth; Atchison, Justin; Fletcher, Zachary; Chen, Michelle; Heistand, Christopher; Huang, Philip; Smith, Evan; Sibol, Deane; Bekker, Dmitriy; Carrelli, David (2019). "Double Asteroid Redirection Test: The Earth Strikes Back". 2019 IEEE Aerospace Conference. pp. 1–11. doi:10.1109/AERO.2019.8742007. ISBN 978-1-5386-6854-2. S2CID 195222414.
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  16. ^ "DART has a solar array experiment called transformational solar array on its roll out solar array panel". Retrieved 13 August 2021.
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  19. ^ "Impactor Spacecraft". NASA. 2021. Retrieved 18 February 2021.   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
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External linksEdit