The DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) by NASA will be launched on board of a SpaceX Falcon 9 from the Vandenberg base in California. With this probe, NASA will be experimentally testing, for the first time, the possibility of deviating the trajectory of an asteroid that poses a potential threat to the Earth, through controlled impact: DART will, in fact, hit the smaller of the two asteroids in the binary system called Didymos in an attempt to change its orbit.
Fundamental to the success of this mission is the contribution made by the small satellite called LiciaCube (Light Italian Cubesat for Imaging of Asteroids), a small all-Italian probe and the first European CubeSat vehicle to travel into deep space, far from the Earth.
The 6U CubeSat (10x20x30xm) will be ejected from DART 10 days before impact with the Dimorphos asteroid. The LiciaCube will then continue in autonomous navigation, with the important task of capturing images of DART and Dimorphos during the impact, of the crater and the fragments generated, enabling essential data to be gathered for the study of this small celestial body and to check the dynamics of the impact.
LiciaCube, the first deep space mission developed and managed by an all-Italian team under the guide of the Italian Space Agency has seen contribution by the researchers in the ASTRA research group headed by Professor Michèle Lavagna, Andrea Capannolo and Giovanni Zanotti, from the Department of Aerospace Science and Technology at Politecnico di Milano. They were responsible for designing the ejection trajectory and manoeuvring profile that will ensure a correct approach to the celestial body and recording of the cloud of fragments without putting this small satellite at the risk of collision.
Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab