Private rocket company SpaceX has been awarded a $69 million NASA contract to redirect an asteroid off its intended path. It’s basically crashing a rocket into an asteroid hurtling towards the Earth in the hope that it would be enough to deflect it from its path and save the planet.
NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test or DART mission will rely on something dubbed the kinetic impactor. This works by sending one or more high-speed spacecraft into the path of an object approaching the Earth. It’s an asteroid in this case. If the mission is successful, it will be able to redirect the asteroid away from the Earth’s orbital path.
NASA previously demonstrated this on a smaller scale with the Deep Impact mission in 2005. What NASA is aiming to do with DART is to reduce the reaction time that would be required to avoid a catastrophic asteroid impact on Earth. It’s believed that currently, it could take up to two years to do this for a smaller asteroid and maybe even up to 20 years or more for larger rocks.
What would be interesting to see is whether the kinetic impactors will be effective against a larger asteroid. More information about this should become available when the mission launches in June 2021.