Elon Musk’s NASA and SpaceX want to save Earth from asteroids

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NASA via Getty Images


NASA is developing technology to save Earth from an asteroid impact. Yes, it sounds like the plot of sci-fi movies, like Armageddon Where Deep impact, but the space agency’s plans are real.

The mission will be made possible by a host of commercial technologies, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX plays a role as well.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, is a planetary defense test set to launch in November. NASA will crash a spacecraft in the so-called “moonlet” of an asteroid named Didymos, which is 780 meters in diameter. The smallest piece orbiting Didymos, or the moon, is 160 meters wide, which NASA says “is more typical of the size of asteroids that could pose the greatest threat to Earth.”

The process, however, will take some time: the impact of the DART spacecraft will take place in September 2022, according to NASA.

Shattering a relatively small ship in an asteroid isn’t as exciting as blowing it up, like in the movies, but the strategy is all mathematical. When objects are millions of miles from Earth, changing the course of even a tiny amount can do the trick.

The DART spacecraft will hit the moon of Didymos about 11 million kilometers from Earth, or about 6.8 million miles. And it will hit hard, at about 6.6 kilometers per second, which translates to 15,000 miles per hour.

The craft will be launched on a SpaceX rocket. The mission will test NASA’s xenon thrusters, an ion drive system that, in space, can reach speeds of up to 90,000 miles per hour.


Rocketdyne Aerojet

(AJRD) develops components for thrusters.

As to who is making the rest of the DART spacecraft, NASA was not immediately available for comment. Aerospace companies such as


Boeing

(BA) have the ability to build satellites and spacecraft.


Boeing

was not immediately available for comment.

Aerojet merges with


Lockheed Martin

(LMT), but neither stock moved much on Wednesday. DART, while an interesting project, is probably too small to shake things up for investors. Lockheed shares are down 0.6% at midday. The


S&P 500

and


Dow Jones Industrial Average

0.8% and 1%, respectively.

SpaceX, of course, is a private company. Most investors cannot yet own a portion of this business.

Write to Al Root at [email protected]

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