NASA will crash spacecraft into asteroid in test of Armageddon-like ground defense against killer stones

In a plot straight out of the hit movie Armageddon, boffins seek to smash a spaceship into an asteroid.

The goal is to see if such an impact would actually change the direction of the rocks – a test that could then be used if a killer asteroid turned out to be on a collision course with Earth.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test mission will involve launching a spacecraft that sends it down into an asteroid 17.7 million kilometers from our planet.

The ambitious project, which involves teams from NASA and the European Space Agency, will be launched next month.

It could pave the way for a new planetary defense system designed to divert incoming space rocks.

Illustration of the DART spacecraft on its way to Didymos and its smaller asteroid.
Camera iconIllustration of the DART spacecraft on its way to Didymos and its smaller asteroid. Credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins, APL / Steve Gribben

In the Hollywood movie Armageddon, starring Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck, a spaceship is flown to an asteroid to set off an atomic bomb to divert the rock from hitting Earth.

“DART will be the first demonstration of the kinetic impactor technique to change the motion of an asteroid in space,” NASA said on its website.

The DART spacecraft consists of a box-shaped body about twice the size of a washing machine flanked by two 18 m long solar panels.

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It will be launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on November 24.

DART reaches the near-Earth binary asteroid Didymos about nine months later.

Didymos is approximately 740 m across and sits between the orbits of Earth and Mars.

A scene from the movie Armageddon.
Camera iconA scene from the movie Armageddon. Credit: FRANK MASI/AP

But it is a smaller asteroid orbiting Didymos that will be the test site.

DART will smash into it at 24,140 km / h in an attempt to change its orbit.

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A small cube set launched next to the mission will collect data before, during and after the impact.

Scientists hope the collision will change the orbit of the rock around Didymos and give hope of protecting Earth from extinction asteroids like the one believed to have wiped out dinosaurs about 65 million years ago.

Dinosaurs were wiped out by an asteroid.
Camera iconDinosaurs were wiped out by an asteroid. Credit: Getty Images / iStockphoto

About 26,000 “near-earth objects” have been identified. NASA classifies 4,700 of them as “potentially dangerous objects”.

This means that they are larger 150 m across, pass within 7.5 million kilometers of the Earth and will cause devastating damage if they hit.

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