Just two weeks after launch, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft returned its first images from space.
DART is the very first mission dedicated to the study and demonstration of a method of deflecting asteroids by modifying the motion of an asteroid in space by kinetic impact.
Its target is the Didymos near-Earth asteroid binary system, made up of Didymos with a diameter of around 780 m (2,560 feet) and the smaller Dimorphos, with a size of around 160 m (530 feet), which orbit around Didymos. DART will impact Dimorphos to change its orbit within the binary system.
DART was launched on November 24, 2021 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 4 East at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, United States.
After the violent vibrations of the launch and the extreme temperature change to minus 80 degrees Celsius in space, the members of the DART team held their breath in anticipation.
Since the components of the spacecraft’s telescoping instrument are sensitive to movements as small as 5 millionths of a meter, even a small displacement of something in the instrument could be very serious.
On December 7, DART opened the circular door covering the opening of its Didymos reconnaissance and asteroid camera for optical navigation (DRACO) and, to everyone’s joy, returned the first image of its surroundings.
Taken about 3.2 million km (2 million miles) from Earth – very close, astronomically speaking – the image shows a dozen stars, crystal clear and crisp against a black background of space, near the intersection of the constellations Perseus, Aries and Taurus.
The DART team used the stars in the image to determine precisely how DRACO was oriented, providing the first measurements of how the camera is pointed relative to the spacecraft.
With those measurements in hand, the team could accurately move the spacecraft to point DRACO at objects of interest, such as the Messier 38, also known as the Starfish Cluster, which DART captured in another image on the 10th. December.
Located in the constellation Auriga, Messier 38 is some 3,480 light years from Earth.
Intentionally capturing images with many stars like Messier 38 helps researchers characterize optical imperfections in images as well as calibrate the absolute brightness of an object – all important details for accurate measurements when DRACO begins to image the destination of the image. spatialship.
This article is based on text provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.