Just two days after leaving the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, in a specialized container carefully strapped to the deck of a semi-trailer truck, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft arrived in California.
The truck, spacecraft and a small motorcade of APL engineers and technicians pulled into Vandenberg Space Force Base near Lompoc, California.
The spacecraft will go through a series of final tests and checks, as well as fueling, in the next few weeks as the team prepares for DART’s scheduled launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in late November. DART will be the world’s first mission to test planetary defense techniques, demonstrating one mitigation method of asteroid deflection, called kinetic impact.
DART will impact the small asteroid moonlet Dimorphos, which orbits a larger companion, Didymos, in a binary asteroid system to change its orbital period. Although neither asteroid poses a threat to Earth, the collision with Dimorphos enables researchers to demonstrate the deflection technique along with several new technologies, and collect important data to enhance our modeling and predictive capabilities for asteroid deflection. Those enhancements will help us better prepare should an asteroid ever be discovered as a threat to Earth.
DART is directed by NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office to the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and managed as a project of the Planetary Missions Program Office at Marshall Space Flight Center with support from several other NASA centers: the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Goddard Space Flight Center, Johnson Space Center, Glenn Research Center and Langley Research Center.
In mid-September, the spacecraft successfully went through a pre-shipment review to ensure each part was complete and ready for shipment. The DART team also successfully went through a flight operational readiness review to assess its readiness to start spacecraft operations once DART enters space.
“Although it was just a few days of travel, this has been a journey long coming,” said Elena Adams, DART mission systems engineer from APL. “We are all excited and relieved to see the truck arrive safely at Vandenberg and for DART to begin its final preparations for launch. We spent the last one and a half years testing DART on the ground, practicing for what’s the most highly anticipated part yet: its flight to Dimorphos. We have a few more mission rehearsals to do, with the team practicing spacecraft launch operations from Vandenberg in California and the APL Mission Operations Center in Maryland. Once completed, we will be ready for launch and operations.”