the ‘shoebox’ that will allow us to observe the impact of DART against the asteroid Dimorphos

LICIACube (Light Italian Cubesat for Imaging of Asteroids) is a mission of the Italian Space Agency (ASI) that is part of the dart mission of NASA, in addition, it will be the first full-scale test of the kinetic impact technique for defense purposes.

Saying device it will stay as a secondary spacecraft during the interplanetary cruise, being released ten days before impact by its dispenser. LICIACube will use an autonomous navigation system to witness DART’s impact on Dimorphos and will acquire images of the target in the post-impact scenario.

The ASI innovation will document the effects of the DART impact on September 26, in this way, it will collect photographs of the surface of the asteroid providing valuable information.

The design is based on a 6U platform developed by the aerospace company Argotec in the framework of the ArgoMoon mission, suitable for the LICIACube mission, which will house two instruments:

  • read (LICIACube Explorer Imaging for Asteroid): Narrow-field panchromatic camera to acquire long-distance images with high spatial resolution.
  • LUKE (LICIACube Unit Key Explorer): Wide-field RGB camera, which allows a multicolor analysis of the asteroidal environment.

Andrew Cheng (DART principal investigator and planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory) states in the Blog NASA that “we are excited to have LICIACube on the way, our intrepid little reporter who we hope will make a valuable contribution to DART. What he will witness and document will provide unique and important information that we could not otherwise obtain“.

dart mission
dart mission
Italian Space Agency

Scientific objectives of LICIACube

The POT will load the command of maneuvers for the final trajectory of the satellite, which will take you past Dimorphos about three minutes after the DART impact.

That slight delay will allow LICIACube to confirm the impact, observe the plume’s evolution, capture images of the impact crater, and see the opposite hemisphere of Dimorphos (the one DART will never see).

Specifically, the LICIACube missions are:

  • witness the impact of DART on the surface of Dimorphos.
  • Study the formation of the plume generated by the impact to characterize its structure and evolution.
  • Investigate the surface impact site of Dimorphos with the goal of get size measurements and the morphology of the crater.
  • Observe the unimpacted hemisphere to help estimate the size and volume of the target itself.

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