The Nasa’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission and its booster: image and movie – 24 Nov. 2021
A few hours after its launch, we could image both the DART spacecraft and its 2nd stage booster. Image and movie are available below.
The image above comes from a single 30-second exposure, remotely taken with the “Elena” (PlaneWave 17″ + Paramount ME + SBIG STL-6303E) robotic unit available at Virtual Telescope. The telescope tracked the satellites: both NASA’s DART and its 2nd stage booster are visible in the center of the image as sharp dots, while stars show as trails. This image was taken from Ceccano, Italy, about 10 hours after lift-off: at that time, DART was at about 150.000km from us, less than 50% of the lunar distance.
We used the JPL ephemeris service to find and track DART. Together with DART, there is the satellite LICIACube, developed by Argotec, in cooperation with Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI, the Italian Space Agency). This mission will test asteroid deflection techniques on Dimorphos, the little satellite of asteroid (65803) Didymos. DART will crash on that little satellite on Sept. 2022, to change its orbit, while LICIAcube will help understanding the outcome of that collision. ESA’s Hera mission will join in 2024 to understand the results of such a pioneering attempt. All this will be very precious for future mitigation of an asteroid impact hazard.
In this image above, the payload is the brightest dot of the couple, the other one being the 2nd stage booster. The latter, infact, is spinning every few seconds, showing very large brightness variations, sometimes being brighter than the payload. See the movie below.
All these images were taken early in the evening twilight, with the objects lower than 20 degrees above the western, bright horizon.
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