After traveling in the vacuum of space for nearly nine months, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission is ready for impact. The spacecraft, on a mission to test a technology that could be used to deflect an asteroid coming towards Earth in the future, will crash into Dimorphos, a moonlet of the asteroid Didymos.

On its way, the spacecraft has finally spotted its destination as Nasa has scheduled the intentional crash into the asteroid, which does not pose a threat to Earth, on September 26. The mission is to test the world’s first kinetic impact technique.

The spacecraft used the Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation (DRACO) in July to snap 243 images of the dark space ahead of itself and form a composite, which shows asteroid Didymos and its orbiting moonlet Dimorphous. At the time, the spacecraft was 20 million miles away from the Didymos system.

The impact will be tracked by observatories from across the world. (Photo: Nasa)

While engineers were unsure if the spacecraft will be able to see its destination from that distance, the composite image revealed Didymos in the darkness of space and pinpointed its location.

“This first set of images is being used as a test to prove our imaging techniques. 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,” Elena Adams, the DART mission systems engineer said in a statement.

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The images are significant since the spacecraft will depend on this ability to see and process images of Didymos and Dimorphos, once it too can be seen, to guide the spacecraft toward the asteroid, especially in the final four hours before impact.

“Seeing the DRACO images of Didymos for the first time, we can iron out the best settings for DRACO and fine-tune the software. In September, we’ll refine where DART is aiming by getting a more precise determination of Didymos’ location,” Julie Bellerose, the DART navigation lead, said in a statement.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test or Dart mission, is the demonstration of kinetic impactor technology, hitting an asteroid to adjust its speed and path. DART will be the first-ever space mission to demonstrate asteroid deflection by a kinetic impactor. The data from the crash can help scientists create mini-impacts in a lab and build sophisticated computer models based on those results.

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