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The $496m mission will probe near-Earth asteroids to see whether it would be possible to destroy them
NASA to crash spacecraft into asteroid to test planetary defense: What to know
Will we ever know if we can wipe out an asteroid?
In a bid to find out, NASA has selected a mission to crash a spacecraft into an asteroid, not far from Earth, to test whether it would be possible to shoot it out of the solar system.
Astronomers and scientists hope that a crash could provide valuable information about the composition of asteroids and develop the necessary technology for a mission to redirect one or destroy it should it threaten our planet or other planets in our solar system.
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The Targeting Technology Demonstration (T-DEM) mission consists of an inert first stage, and a small satellite which is intentionally released after two years on board the spacecraft. It then crash-lands on the target asteroid in the Far Side of the Moon as part of an experiment intended to test advanced robotics.
Two robotic landers will carry out detailed surface and analysis operations, testing “interplanetary strategy, capabilities and implementation”.
The mission will cost about $496m, an amount not much more than the 2015 film Her which used its budget to explore similar questions.
The US space agency chose the target asteroid after it received over 2,200 nominations. The medium-sized C/2017 R3, which is almost the size of a small car, has been chosen for the mission based on the exposure it has had and its location.
That location is particularly attractive as it comes near Earth.
“This asteroid is far enough away from Earth that it’s not going to hit us – it will never impact us – but it’s close enough that any impacts that do occur will be felt throughout the Earth,” project scientist Sam Gordon told Space.com.
A new, $450m spacecraft called OSIRIS-REx has already reached asteroid Bennu which it is preparing to study. The findings of this mission will help inform future missions on more local asteroid visits.
This mission may shed light on where the idea of bombing asteroids was originally first conceived and why it did not ever come to fruition. However, it will never actually do any damage to Earth.