Since 2017, NASA has been in the process of testing to see whether crashing a satellite into an asteroid can change its course, enlisting the help of SpaceX on this endeavor in 2019. Today, the rocket company shared that it has completed a static fire test and is targeting November 23rd as the launch date of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART).
At 10:21pm PT that day, NASA will "intentionally crash the DART spacecraft into an asteroid to see if that is an effective way to change its course, should an Earth-threatening asteroid be discovered in the future," SpaceX said in a tweet. To be clear, this does not mean the collision itself takes place on Nov. 23rd. That's set to happen in 2022.
A static fire test is one of several steps in getting a launch vehicle ready to deploy, and it checks engine startup performance, measuring things like pressure and temperature. With this stage complete, SpaceX and NASA look set to go ahead next week.
DART is targeting a binary asteroid with two bodies called Didymos (the Greek word for "twin"). Didymos B is 160 meters (about 174 yards) large, and orbits the larger Didymos A, which is 780 meters in size. The binary asteroid would have passed Earth safely in 2022 and again in 2024 — they weren't on track to make contact with our planet.
But NASA has already identified at least 23 objects that could potentially collide with us over the next 100 years. Coming up with a defense strategy is key to protecting humanity should Armageddon ever be on the horizon.
Static fire test complete – targeting Tuesday, November 23 at 10:21 p.m. PT for Falcon 9’s launch of @NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) November 19, 2021
Update 11/20/21 1AM ET: We corrected the post to clarify that the target launch date is November 23rd. We apologize for the error.