NASA to build asteroid-smashing probe to divert Didymos space rock (VIDEO)

NASA to build asteroid-smashing probe to divert Didymos space rock (VIDEO)
A spacecraft tipped to one day deflect potentially life-threatening asteroids from crashing into Earth has entered its first design phase, according to NASA.

Part of a collaborative concept between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) is a probe that, when built, is expected to divert the trajectory of space rocks hurtling toward Earth.

READ MORE: Threat of asteroid collision higher than previously thought – study

With the idea given the green light for design, experts at the US space agency are now gearing up to prepare the craft for a outer space test in 2022.

“DART would be NASA’s first mission to demonstrate what’s known as the kinetic impactor technique - striking the asteroid to shift its orbit - to defend against a potential future asteroid impact,” said NASA spokesperson Lindley Johnson.

“This approval steps the project toward an historic test with a non-threatening small asteroid,” Johnson added.

DART’s first mission is to intercept a small, non-threatening asteroid system known as Didymos.

Made up of two space rocks, between 160 meters and 780 meters in length, Didymos will pass Earth at a distance between 2022 and 2024.

The ESA is leading the production of a similar craft called the Asteroid Impact Monitoring Mission to hit the same asteroid in 2022.

DART would collide with the smaller Didymos rock at “about nine times faster than a bullet,” NASA says. The hope is that this impact will be sufficient enough to reroute the asteroid.

NASA has stepped up its space defense strategies in recent years. In 2016, the space agency set up the Planetary Defense Coordination Office to detect debris that could potentially slam into Earth.

READ MORE: Asteroid smashing mission to blast space rock in 2022

“DART is a critical step in demonstrating we can protect our planet from a future asteroid impact,” said Andy Cheng, a researcher at The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab and a team lead on the DART project.

 “Since we don’t know that much about their internal structure or composition, we need to perform this experiment on a real asteroid.”