NASA’s Dual Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) was honored by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) with the organization’s latest award the AIAA Award for Aerospace Excellence at the AIAA Awards Ceremony on Thursday, May 18, at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Arts in Washington, D.C.
The AIAA Premier Awards commemorate the most influential and inspiring figures in the field of aerospace, whose extraordinary contributions deserve the highest recognition. DART received the Aerospace Excellence Award, which celebrates a unique program or mission in the aerospace community that deserves early recognition, specifically for marking “the first time humanity has intentionally altered the motion of a celestial object by a team of defenders of our home planet.”
Accepting the award on behalf of the DART team were NASA Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson and DART Systems Engineer and Propulsion Manager Jeremy John of the Space Exploration Sector of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.
Designed, built and operated by APL for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO), which oversees the agency’s ongoing planetary defense efforts, DART was humanity’s first mission to intentionally move a celestial object and touch down on September 26, 2022 to the asteroid Dimorphos. DART’s successful collision with Dimorphos changed the asteroid’s orbital period around its companion asteroid Didymos by 33 minutes.
“The scientists and engineers on the DART team have integrated decades of planetary defense technology we’ve matured at APL and translated it into a first-of-its-kind success for the benefit of all humanity,” said Bobby Braun, SES chief. “I am incredibly proud of the hard work, tireless driving and meticulous preparation of the entire DART team.
DART launched in 2021 from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that traveled for 10 months to its target asteroid Dimorphos. The spacecraft successfully collided with an asteroid on September 26, 2022, effectively demonstrating the world’s first planetary defense technology capability.
Observations from ground-based telescopes and radar devices around the world helped scientists analyze how much the DART impact changed Dimorphos’ orbit around its parent asteroid Didymos. Researchers originally expected the impact to shorten Dimorphos’ orbit by about 1%, or about 10 minutes, but post-impact observations showed the change was more than threefold.
Images returned by the DART Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation (DRACO), the Italian Space Agency’s Light Italian CubeSat for Asteroid Imaging (LICIACube), and the James Webb Space Telescope, the Hubble Space Telescope, and NASA’s Lucy spacecraft helped scientists understand the composition.
The nature of Dimorphos’ surface, how much material was ejected by the impact, how fast it was ejected, and the particle size distribution in the resulting dust cloud to ultimately determine how effectively a kinetic impactor spacecraft can modify the asteroid’s trajectory. The team officially confirmed that a kinetic impactor mission like DART can be effective in altering an asteroid’s trajectory in four papers in the journal Nature.
“I am thrilled that the AIAA has selected the DART project for its new award,” said NASA’s Johnson. “The tremendous success of this unique project, testing technology needed to protect our planet from future asteroid impacts, exemplifies the standard of excellence for aerospace endeavors.”
APL built and operated the DART spacecraft and manages the DART mission for NASA’s PDCO as a project of the agency’s Planetary Mission Program Office.
AIAA is the world’s largest aviation engineering society. With nearly 30,000 individual members from 91 countries and 100 corporate members, AIAA brings together industry, academia and government to advance engineering and science in aerospace and defense.