NASA’s DART spacecraft approaches its target
The new images released by NASA show light reflecting off Didymos and its orbiting moonlet Dimorphos. They are a composite of 243 images taken by the Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation (DRACO) on July 27, 2022.
The DART spacecraft took images of the asteroids from approximately 20 million miles (32.186 million km) away, and navigation camera experts were uncertain whether DRACO could spot the space rocks from that distance.
“This first set of images is being used as a test to prove our imaging techniques,” said Elena Adams, the DART mission systems engineer at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. “The quality of the image is similar to what we could obtain from ground-based telescopes, but it is important to show that DRACO is working properly and can see its target to make any adjustments needed before we begin using the images to guide the spacecraft into the asteroid autonomously.”
Ultimately, the DRACO system will be used to help the DART spacecraft navigate and slam into its target autonomously once it gets closer. NASA’s DART team explained that the new images would help them to fine-tune the software responsible for those final hours before impact.
When will the DART spacecraft slam into its target?
The DART spacecraft will smash into Dimorphos on September 26. It will do so to conduct the very first test of the kinetic impact technique, which utilizes a spacecraft to deflect an asteroid for planetary defense. It will also be the very first planetary defense test conducted in space. Dimorphos doesn’t pose a threat to Earth, and it will only be used as a test subject, standing in for a hypothetical hazardous space rock zipping towards Earth.