NASA to test asteroid impactor in mid-2020

Written by By By Marianna Parraga, CNN

NASA plans to carry out a space rock crash test next year in a space outside the moon’s orbit to determine if a spacecraft could destroy an asteroid with one impactor.

Known as a “micro-impact,” or “space impactor,” experiment, this is a test of the technology needed to defend the Earth from an asteroid, according to an official announcement from NASA.

Asteroids are leftovers from the early days of the solar system, when our solar system formed. According to NASA, there could be about 15,000 near-Earth asteroids large enough to be hazardous to our planet.

A team led by the JPL at NASA will take NASA’s NEO Observations Program beyond its current region of observation in order to carry out this test. This marks the first time such a micro-impact experiment has been conducted.

NASA says the test will provide valuable information about its NEO Observations Program.

“First of all, by getting outside of the moon’s orbit, the test gives us valuable data on atmospheric properties of a possible future NEO impact vehicle, and it’s a taste of the space environment that we’re planning to test with future spacecraft in the near future,” said Eric Carlin, manager of the NEO Observations Program in a press release.

Micro-impacts are a complex technique, which works by sending a spacecraft to a space rock in order to smash a very small chunk of rock into the surface of the asteroid.

NASA plans on crashing an impactor into an asteroid to test its defense capabilities. Credit: Roberto Segare, NASA/JPL

Also known as an “anasteroid body harpooning experiment,” an asteroid impactor is a device containing an oblong metal harpoon capable of breaking through the surface of an asteroid with the force of a car.

“This is NASA’s opportunity to test a proposed technology which could have a significant impact on the protection of humans and the environment from near-Earth asteroids,” said Carlin.

NASA will be hosting a media availability with Carlin and the JPL on January 8 in Washington DC. Watch for more information here.

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