Before colliding with asteroid, NASA DART captures Jupiter and its 4 moons

NASA’s DART spacecraft’s imager has captured a picture of Jupiter and its four largest moons, days before an intentional collision with the asteroid Dimorphos. Check details.

NASA is all set to test its planetary defense with the help of DART Mission on September 26, 2022. Before the event, NASA has informed that the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) imager or camera has captured a picture of Planet Jupiter and its four largest moons. “Taking the scenic route. As our #DARTMission cruises towards its intentional impact with Dimorphos, an asteroid moonlet which poses no threat to Earth, the spacecraft’s imager has captured a picture of Jupiter and its four largest moons,” NASA tweeted.

It can be known that NASA’s DART spacecraft will encounter the binary asteroid Didymos on September 26. Giving further insights NASA informed that the spacecraft’s imager – the Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation, or DRACO – has snapped thousands of pictures of stars. The pictures give the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) team leading the mission for NASA the data necessary to support ongoing spacecraft testing and rehearsals in preparation for the spacecraft’s kinetic impact into Dimorphos, the moon of Didymos.

As the only instrument on DART, DRACO will capture images of Didymos and Dimorphos; it will also support the spacecraft’s autonomous guidance system – the Small-body Maneuvering Autonomous Real Time Navigation (SMART Nav) – to guide DART to impact.

As for the information provided by NASA, on July 1 and August 2 the mission operations team pointed the DRACO imager to Jupiter to test the SMART Nav system. The team used it to detect and target Jupiter’s moon Europa as it emerged from behind Jupiter, similar to how Dimorphos will visually separate from the larger asteroid Didymos in the hours leading up to impact.

While the test obviously didn’t involve DART colliding with Jupiter or its moons, it did give the APL-led SMART Nav team the chance to assess how well the SMART Nav system performs in flight. Before this Jupiter test, SMART Nav testing was done via simulations on the ground, NASA added.

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DRACO is a high-resolution camera inspired by the imager on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft that returned the first close-up images of the Pluto system and of the Kuiper Belt object Arrokoth. Also, DART was developed and is managed by APL for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office. DART is the world’s first planetary defense test mission, intentionally executing a kinetic impact into Dimorphos to slightly change its motion in space.

While no known asteroid poses a threat to Earth, the DART mission will demonstrate that a spacecraft can autonomously navigate to a kinetic impact on a relatively small target asteroid, and that this is a viable technique to deflect a genuinely dangerous asteroid, if one were ever discovered.