NASA wants to save the Earth from asteroids (with a giant DART)
They're dark, deadly and given half a chance, they'll destroy everything and everyone you hold dear.
So what can we do to protect ourselves?
Well, the answer is the only thing we know how to do when we face a massive threat.
Shove it mildly out of the way.
I'm Claire Reilly.
Welcome to Watch this Space.
From the CNET studios in Sydney, this is your guide to everything on Earth you need to know about space.
And tonight, the asteroids are coming and we only have one defense, NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test mission.
Set to launch as early as 2020, the DART mission will answer one big question.
If Earth was on a collision course with an asteroid, could we sent up a space craft to nudge it out of the way?
The mission is simple.
NASA's high tech DARt space craft, also known as a kinetic impactor, is designed to intercept asteroids and knock them of course before they can hit our planet.
Kind of like a game of pool.
The dot will blasted off into space and using its autonomous navigation software and onboard cameras, the spacecraft will tag at the asteroid 11 million kilometers from earth.
And deliberately crash into it at the speed of 6 kilometers per second.
It might sound simple but it sure beats the other options we had.
All right, guys, it's on the numbers of the asteroid, I think our best bet is Operation Armageddon.
So we're gonna get a group of criminal miners and we're gonna send them up to the asteroid.
They're gonna bury a nuke inside.
That won't work.
I'm gonna rework this.
I'll come back, I'll come back.
I heard your feedback about the criminal miners, and I get it.
So we're gonna do plan B, which is Operation Deep Impact, okay?
The same idea, we send the people up, they nuke it.
But it goes around the Earth this time.
And we'll put everyone onto escape rockets.
And Elijah Wood was gonna be there, but maybe he's gonna get married.
I don't know yet.
I hear it, I can hear it and all that.
Let's just Let's just do the dart plan.
The dart isn't the only spacecraft that's astroid-bound.
It's been launchd alongside the Euopean Space Agency's hera spacecraft as part of the Astroid Impact and Defelction Assesment, or AIDA mission.
Hera is designed to orbit the asteroid and quietly gather data while America's DART spacecraft is gonna stick a proverbial [UNKNOWN] on its head and crash into the rock.
Yeah, that checks out.
But even though bashing into an asteroid sounds like a simple concept, the DART is actually a very high-tech piece of equipment.
A cube shaped spacecraft because onboard cameras and an autonomous navigation system as well as roll out solar arrays or roses to juice up the batteries as it flies through space.
Best of all, the dart is packed with NASA's evolutionary xenon thruster commercial or next solar electric propulsion system and I really need to get a teleprompter for this show.
The next C ion thrusters will not only allow the dot to maneuver it's way towards the asteroid in space, it also means NASA doesn't have to have such a tight launch window.
Think of it like a NERF blaster.
If you're trying to shoot a moving target, you need to shoot it at exactly the right angle and exactly the right time to make sure that you hit it.
But imagine if your nerve dart had its own tiny thrusters on it.
You'd be able to shoot the dart, switch on the thrusters, and it'd still make its way over to the asteroid to knock it off course.
So where are we gonna shoot this dart?
Well, NASA has picked out the binary near Earth asteroid 65803 Didymos for its target.
Not to be confused with Sir Didymos from the 1980s David Bowie classic Labyrinth Yes, that's a niche movie reference.
Didymos is about 800 meters in width and currently orbiting the sun out past Earth.
The last time it came close to us, it skimmed by about 7 million kilometers away.
The asteroid was discovered in 1996, but in 2003, scientists realized it had a small moon in tow, nicknamed Didymoon.
So I guess we all know what Sean Combs is calling his next album.
the dart will target the smaller, 150 meter wide Didymoon which NASA says is more typical of the size of asteroids that could pose a hazard to Earth.
That's basically code for, we don't want to bash into the big Arnie twins, so we're going to hip bump with Danny DeVito instead.
NASA plans to launch the dart sometime between December 2020 and May 2021.
It will use its thrusters to spiral up past the orbit of the moon and shoot towards [UNKNOWN].
If all goes to plan NASA says it will intercept the diggie moon in early October 2022.
From there scientists here on earth will be able to use telescopes and planetary radar to measure the diggie change in momentum At that point, we'll know just how well NASA's shoving method really works and if doesn't.
well at least we'll have plenty of time to set up the apocalypse lottery, find Elijah Wood, and strap him to an escape rocket bound for interstellar space.
Alright, that's it for this week's episode of Watch This Space.
We'll be back again in two weeks.
But if you've enjoyed our broadcast, remember to click like on your remote and subscribe to get more space news as it happens.
I'm Clare Riley for CNET, good night and Godspeed.