NASA has awarded Elon Musk's SpaceX a $69 million contract for a mission that will involve smashing a spacecraft into an asteroid to deflect it from its original path.
The Agency plans to use SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket to send its asteroid-deflecting spacecraft into orbit. The project, dubbed Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), is currently being designed by NASA scientists in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.
The demonstration mission is expected to be launched in June 2021, according to NASA.
The spacecraft sent by the Agency will intercept a moonlet of asteroid Didymos in October 2022. At that time, the asteroid will be about 11 million kilometres away from the Earth.
The mission will "demonstrate a kinetic impact" produced by the DART spacecraft, which will crash into the asteroid at a speed of about 6 km/s.
The spacecraft will be equipped with a camera and navigation software to help it precisely hit the asteroid. Scientists believe the collision will produce a force that will alter the asteroid's speed by a fraction of one per cent. Any change in the course of the moonlet will be captured by various telescopes on Earth.
Elon Musk's SpaceX company currently has multi-billion dollar contracts with NASA to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS).
The company is also working on a crewed capsule that will eventually carry US astronauts to the ISS.
On 11th April, SpaceX launched the first commercial mission of its Falcon Heavy rocket, while also successfully landing all three boosters of the rocket on Earth.
While two lower boosters landed on the ground, the middle core landed on a drone ship in Atlantic Ocean.
On Monday, SpaceX said it lost the centre core of the rocket in the Atlantic Ocean due to rough sea conditions. The centre booster was being transported back to the Florida coast, when choppy sea caused it to fell into the ocean.
According to SpaceX, the booster could not remain upright as conditions worsened with "eight to ten foot swells" in the ocean.
The company said the loss of the centre booster will not have any impact on Falcon Heavy's future missions.
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