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Update: United States embarks on asteroid redirect planetary defence mission

An artist's illustration of NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraft, from behind. The US launched its DART mission to investigate requirements for preventing a hazardous asteroid from hitting Earth. (NASA)

The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has begun its quest to investigate requirements for preventing a hazardous asteroid from hitting Earth.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission will be the first demonstration of a kinetic impactor technique to change the motion of an asteroid in space. The DART satellite is designed to impact an asteroid as a test of technology, according to a NASA statement. The collision between the DART satellite and the target asteroid is expected in September 2022.

The asteroid system being targeted by NASA is a testing ground to determine if intentionally crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid is an effective way to change its course, should an Earth-threatening asteroid be discovered in the future. NASA said while no known asteroid larger than 140 m in size has a significant chance to hit Earth for the next 100 years, only about 40% of those asteroids have been found as of October 2021.

Charles Miller, a space industry executive and Lynk CEO, said that asteroids as small as 50 m could cause a catastrophe for Earth. He told Janes on 1 December that a 1 km asteroid could kill one billion people if it hits Earth in the right spot. Additionally, he said, smaller asteroids could drive enough Earth elements into the atmosphere to make the Earth extremely cold for five years and cause mass starvation by killing farms and food.

“The bigger ones are the worst, but they are the easiest to find,” Miller said.

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