SpaceX Wins NASA’s Anti-Asteroid DART Contract

Rodiano Bonacci
Aprile 14, 2019

NASA is paying $69 million to SpaceX for the contract, which is lower than the $95 million SpaceX charges roughly for defense contract launches.

The announcement marks yet another achievement for Musk's firm in just a few days; on Thursday, SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon Heavy for the second time ever, logging the huge rocket's first commercial mission.

The space agency will be spending around $69 million including the launch service for this mission. Another Falcon 9 launch, the Surface Water and Ocean Topography satellite, was awarded in 2016 with a price of $112 million.

"SpaceX is proud to continue our successful partnership with NASA in support of this important interplanetary mission", says SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell in a company statement.

The mission's target is one of the small moons of the asteroid Didymos. "This contract underscores the confidence to NASA, the Falcon 9's ability to perform critical research tasks, while offering the best value launch in the industry".

The collision is expected to take place when the rock comes within 6.8 million miles (11 million km) of Earth and redirect its course. NASA wants to demonstrate it can measure asteroid deflection within a 10 percent range of accuracy, to capture high resolution images of the target asteroid prior to impact, and to prove it can use "autonomous guidance with proportional navigation" to hit the center of a 150 meter target body.

DART's target launch date is on June 2021, at the Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. While this sounds exciting, if the mission fails, it would result in derailment of NASA's "kinetic impactor technique", however, success will provide crucial data that will inform its deployment against an actual asteroid that's approaching our planet. DART's intercept with Didymos' little moon is expected to occur in early October 2022, At that time Didymos and its moon will be within 11 million kilometers (6,835,083 miles) of Earth, a ideal distance for observations be telescopes.

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