NASA awarded SpaceX a $ 69 million contract to redirect an asteroid out of its intended path.
The mission, called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), uses a technique called kinetic impactor. It involves sending one or more spacecraft at high speed in the path of an object close to the Earth – in this case, an asteroid.
If successful, the rocket would move the asteroid away from the orbital trajectory of the Earth, thus avoiding the need for a sequel to Armageddon. NASA has demonstrated this on a smaller scale with the 2005 Deep Impact mission – the name of another film on asteroids for which we will probably not need a sequel.
The goal of DART is to reduce the reaction time needed to counteract the catastrophic impact of a space rock heading towards a large city. At present, the National Academy of Sciences predicts that it would take one to two years of warning to deflect a smaller asteroid. For larger asteroids, this figure could reach 20 years or even decades for larger rocks, measuring hundreds of kilometers in diameter.
Since we do not have a lot of test data, it's unclear whether kinetic impactors – really called buffer rockets – will be effective on anything bigger than a small asteroid. In June 2021, however, we will be a little closer to the discovery.
It is planned to launch a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. SpaceX hopes and will use solar electric propulsion for DART to intercept the small moon of the asteroid Didymos in October 2022.
At this point, the asteroid will be only 11 million kilometers from the Earth.