For the first time in history, NASA is trying to change the motion of a natural celestial body in space. Now that a spacecraft successfully hit the asteroid Dimorphos — the science is just getting started.
To survey the aftermath of the impact, the European Space Agency’s Hera mission will launch in 2024. The spacecraft, along with two CubeSats, will arrive at the asteroid system two years later.
Hera will study both asteroids, measure physical properties of Dimorphos, and examine the DART impact crater and the moon’s orbit, with the aim of establishing an effective planetary defense strategy.
The Italian Space Agency’s Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids, or LICIACube, will fly by Dimorphos to capture images and video of the impact plume as it sprays up off the asteroid and maybe even spy the crater it could leave behind. The mini-satellite will also glimpse Dimorphos’ opposite hemisphere, which DART won’t get to see before it’s obliterated.
The CubeSat will turn to keep its cameras pointed at Dimorphos as it flies by. Days, weeks and months after, we’ll see images and video captured by the Italian satellite that observed the collision event. The first images expected back from LICIACube could show the moment of impact and the plume it creates.
The LICIACube won’t be the only observer watching. The James Webb Space Telescope, the Hubble Space Telescope and NASA’s Lucy mission will observe the impact. The Didymos system may brighten as its dust and debris is ejected into space, said Statler, the NASA program scientist.
But ground-based telescopes will be key in determining if DART successfully changed the motion of Dimorphos.