DART launches a tiny satellite to observe an impacting asteroid mission – This month, NASA will intentionally crash its spacecraft into an asteroidal object to test its planetary defence capabilities. DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) is a mission to see if crashing into asteroids would help divert its path.
Since last year’s launch in November, DART has been travelling towards a pair of asteroids to perform the test. The craft returned its first images, and the target asteroid was also imaged. The DART craft now has a small satellite to take photos as the crash happens. On September 11, DART released the satellite, known as LICIACube (Light Italian CubeSat For Imaging Asteroids), from its spring-loaded container.
LICIACube’s deployment is also a significant moment for a small space agency. In partnership with NASA, the satellite was provided by the Italian Space Agency.
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Simone Pirrotta (LICIACube project manager at the Italian Space Agency) stated, “We are so excited about this – the first Italian team operating its national spacecraft deep space!” The entire team is involved in monitoring satellite status and preparing for the flyby phase of the asteroid. We will receive the first full-frame images within a few days of DART’s impact. They will then be used to confirm DART’s impact and add information about the generated plume – the actual precious value of our photos.”
LICIA Cube’s two cameras onboard, LUKE (LICIACube Unit Key Explorer) and LEIA [LICIA Cube Explorer Image for Asteroid], will capture images of DART impacting the asteroid.
Andrew Cheng, the lead investigator at DART, stated that LICIACube is on its way. “We are thrilled to have it — the intrepid little journalist that we hope will be a valuable addition to DART.” “What it will witness, document and record will give us unique and valuable information that we wouldn’t otherwise have access to.”
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The European Space Agency mission HERA, which will launch in November 2024 to gather additional information on the DART test’s effectiveness, will be launched in November 2024. It will also visit the asteroid network and examine the impact effects.
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