While there are plenty of things we should worry about here on Earth, the truth is that the biggest threats can come from deep space. A huge asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs around 60 million years ago when it hit on today’s Yucatan peninsula from Mexico. Unfortunately, many astronomers are convinced that the grim scenario will repeat itself someday if humanity doesn’t find a way to get rid of ‘unwanted guests’ from space.
Space agencies are constantly trying to figure out ways of dealing with a ‘global killer’ asteroid that may visit us in the future. NASA is trusting its DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission, scheduled for launching somewhere at the middle of 2021.
The goal is deflecting the asteroid
To test DART, NASA wants to send it to the tiny binary asteroid system called Didymos, one that is not threatening the Earth. One of the asteroids is 789 meters in diameter, while the other one has only 160 meters. DART will simply crash into one of the asteroids, with the purpose of deflecting it.
DART is relying on a powerful ion engine from NASA and called Evolutionary Xenon Thruster – Commercial (NEXT-C). The engine has two main components: the thruster and the power processing unit. The tool is for the moment only in the testing phase.
NEXT-C is able of producing 236 mN thrust and 6.9 kW of thrust power. The engine has produced the highest total impulse of any ion engine ever had: 17 MN·s.
Starlink satellites may affect the search for Near-Earth asteroids
SpaceX has been sending Starlink satellites into orbit, and it will continue to do so. The goal is to provide internet access for remote regions throughout the world, but some scientists are worried that this may block the view of astronomers when they’re looking for asteroids via telescopes. However, there are two sides regarding this problem. The opponent side believes that the sky is far too big for the astronomers to not be able of tracking any potentially dangerous asteroid.
Whatever the case may be with the Starlink satellites, it’s a great thing that space agencies are preparing and struggling to find ways of stopping asteroids that could pose a threat to life on Earth.