NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) was recognized by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) with the organization’s newest award — the AIAA Award for Aerospace Excellence — at the AIAA Awards Gala, Thursday, May 18, at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. The AIAA Premier Awards commemorate the most influential and inspiring individuals in aerospace whose outstanding contributions merit the highest accolades. DART earned the Aerospace Excellence award which celebrates a unique program or mission in the aerospace community deserving timely recognition, namely for marking “humanity’s first time purposely changing the motion of a celestial object by a team of protectors of our home planet.” Accepting the award on behalf of the DART team were NASA Planetary Defense Officer, Lindley Johnson, and DART systems engineer and propulsion lead, Jeremy John, of the Space Exploration Sector of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.
Designed, built and operated by APL for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO), which oversees the agency’s ongoing efforts in planetary defense, DART was humanity’s first mission to intentionally move a celestial object, impacting the asteroid Dimorphos on Sept. 26, 2022. DART’s successful collision with Dimorphos changed the asteroid’s orbit period around its companion asteroid, Didymos, by 33 minutes.
“The scientists and engineers of the DART team integrated the decades of planetary defense technology we have been maturing at APL and translated that into a first-of-its-kind accomplishment for the benefit of all of humanity,” said Bobby Braun, head of SES. “I am incredibly proud of the hard work, tireless drive and meticulous preparation of the whole DART team.”
DART launched in 2021 from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, journeying for 10 months toward its target asteroid Dimorphos. The spacecraft successfully collided with the asteroid on Sept. 26, 2022, effectively demonstrating the world’s first planetary defense technology capability.
Observations from ground-based telescopes and radar facilities across the globe helped scientists analyze how much DART’s impact changed Dimorphos’ orbit around its parent asteroid Didymos. Researchers initially expected the impact to shorten Dimorphos’ orbit by about 1%, or roughly 10 minutes, but post-impact observations showed the change was over three times that.
Images returned by DART’s onboard Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation (DRACO), the Italian Space Agency’s Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids (LICIACube), and NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, Hubble Space Telescope and Lucy spacecraft helped scientists understand the compositional nature of Dimorphos’ surface, how much material was ejected by the collision, how fast it was ejected, and the distribution of particle sizes in the subsequent dust cloud to ultimately determine how effectively a kinetic impactor spacecraft can modify an asteroid’s orbit. The team officially confirmed that a kinetic impactor mission like DART can be effective in altering the trajectory of an asteroid in four papers in the journal Nature.
“I am ecstatic that AIAA selected the DART project for their new award,” said NASA’s Johnson. “The tremendous success of this unique project, testing technology needed to protect our planet from future asteroid impacts, does exemplify a standard of excellence for aerospace endeavors.”
APL built and operated the DART spacecraft and manages the DART mission for NASA’s PDCO as a project of the agency’s Planetary Missions Program Office.
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