Joining NASA in defending the planet from asteroids


The Royal Observatory of Belgium is participating in a NASA mission to divert potential asteroids that could threaten Earth.

Launched by a SpaceX Falcon-9 launch vehicle from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) will test whether it is possible to divert an asteroid's trajectory in order to counter future threats to the planet.

Next October, the probe is due to collide with Dimorphos (the satellite or moon of the large asteroid Didymos with a diameter of 780 metres) located 11 million kilometres from Earth, at a speed of 24,000 km/h, or 6.6 km/sec. To travel such a distance, the spacecraft will deploy mobile solar panels more than 19 metres long to provide the energy needed for its electric propulsion.

The Royal Observatory of Belgium will work alongside NASA during this mission, which is a real world first. Our scientists will play an important role in collecting data following the collision with the 160-metre diameter space rock, using a gravimeter they designed and developed. It will then be necessary to verify the extent to which the impacted object has been slightly derailed from its orbit around Didymos after it is hit.

But rest assured, as based on our current knowledge, it does not appear that an asteroid larger than 140 metres will hit Earth in the next 100 years.