The CSIC participates in the first mission to divert the trajectory of a potentially dangerous asteroid


The astrophysicist of the Institute of Space Sciences, which depends on the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), Josep María Trigo is part of the scientific team of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), which tests the kinetic impact as a method to change the orbit of asteroids, as reported by the CSIC.

On November 24, 2021, NASA’s DART mission and the Johns Hopkins APL laboratory launched into space. This mission will collide on September 27 at 1:14 a.m. against its target, the asteroid Dimorphos, and will slightly change its orbit.

This is the first planetary defense test mission designed to change the course of an asteroid. The astrophysicist Josep Maria Trigo-Rodríguez, from the Institute of Space Sciences (ICE-CSIC) and member of the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia, participates in the scientific team of this mission.

This mission seeks to demonstrate the usefulness of the kinetic impact method to deflect potentially dangerous asteroids. DART will conduct an experiment to change the trajectory and speed of an asteroid in space using the probe itself for kinetic impact, without an explosive charge.

In this way, NASA intends to test planetary defense capabilities in the event that it becomes necessary to deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth in the future.

“With the DART mission we intend to better understand the key aspects that influence the transfer of kinetic momentum by a projectile without explosive charge. It is a physical experiment with which we want to know the efficiency with which a kamikaze projectile excavates a crater in an asteroid, launching materials from the asteroid’s surface in the opposite direction to the projectile”, assured the CSIC astrophysicist.

At this point, he added that the greater the efficiency of this process, “the greater the deviation of the asteroid”. “But there is a multiplicative factor in the impact excavation process that can be better understood from this experiment,” he said.

The ICE-CSIC Meteorites, Small Bodies and Planetary Sciences research group has expert personnel in the physical-chemical properties of the materials that make up the surfaces of asteroids and comets and has made multiple contributions in this field.

“From the ICE-CSIC and the IEEC, we have carried out a series of experiments to better understand the mechanical properties of regolith and the shock processes in asteroids to help understand their nature and mineralogy”, Trigo pointed out.

The astrophysicist explained that asteroids have “a diverse structure that is the result of continuous bombardment by projectiles since their formation”, which “makes diverting them a major scientific-technological challenge”.


The DART target is 11 million kilometers from Earth and is the binary asteroid system made up of Didymos (780 meters in diameter) and Dimorphos (160 meters in diameter), which orbits the former. Neither currently poses a threat to Earth, although it is classified as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid.

Its orbit has been studied “in detail” since its discovery in 1996. In addition, Didymos is considered a prototype of the rocky bodies that the Earth could have to face in the future.

Upon impact with Dimorphos, DART will transfer its angular momentum slightly shortening the asteroid’s orbit. The DART mission research team will quantify the crater’s excavation efficiency by studying the satellite’s new period of revolution through photometric light curve studies using some of the world’s largest telescopes.

In turn, it will compare the kinetic impact results of DART against Dimorphos with computer simulations of kinetic impacts on asteroids. In this way, the team will be able to assess the effectiveness of this mitigation approach, as well as the accuracy of the simulations to see how closely they reflect the behavior of a real asteroid.

In scientific papers prior to the DART spacecraft impact, he has helped predict the nature and properties of Dimorphos’s formative materials, key to understanding the consequences of DART impacting it.

“Likewise, we are awaiting the optical and spectral observations made from DART and its cubesat LICIACube to help in its interpretation. This robotic device will violently hit an asteroid whose internal structure we do not know, so the final scenario is open” , Trigo commented.


“It should be taken into account that the Hera (ESA) mission will follow DART and, therefore, it is necessary to precisely determine the point of impact and the consequences of the excavation of the crater on the asteroid system (65803) Didymos”, has pointed out the astrophysicist, who has been involved for more than a decade in the different proposals that have preceded the DART mission – ESA’s Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM) and the Asteroid Impact Deviation Assessment (AIDA) – as well as in the Hera mission of the European Space Agency (ESA).

Hera is a mission of the European Space Agency (ESA) that will visit the binary asteroid Didymos after the impact of NASA’s DART mission against its Dimorphos satellite. Both asteroids will be mapped in high resolution by Hera. It is also planned to use CubeSat technologies to collect complementary information of great interest in order to mitigate future encounters with asteroids.

After the impact received, the orbital period of Dimorphos will change and will be quantified, but many other details to better understand this binary asteroid will require another additional mission. For this reason, the European Space Agency (ESA) is building Hera to study the impact crater and the consequences it had on Dimorphos. Likewise, it will allow “to reconstruct its form with precision, to characterize its composition, structure and nature”.

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