By CBSLA Staff

NEAR LOMPOC (CBSLA) – SpaceX will launch its Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in Santa Barbara County Tuesday night that carries a spacecraft with a distinctive purpose: to knock an asteroid off its orbital path.

An illustration of the DART spacecraft with roll out solar arrays (ROSA) extended. Each of the two ROSA arrays in 8.6 meters by 2.3 meters. DART will launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base in Santa Barbara County on Nov. 23, 2021. (NASA)

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The launch, scheduled for 10:20 p.m., will involve launching a NASA spacecraft whose ultimate target is to hit the moonlet Dimorphos asteroid, which orbits the larger Didymos asteroid.

The spacecraft, which has been given the name Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), will mark NASA’s first ever planetary defense test mission.

DART is scheduled to reach and hit Dimorphos in the fall of 2022 at a speed of 15,000 miles per hour. Dimorphos is about 160 meters long, according to NASA.

The goal of DART is to change Dimorphos’ orbit “within the Didymos binary asteroid system,” according to a news release from Vandenberg AFB.

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Per NASA, the collision will change Dimorphos’ orbit around Didymos by just a fraction of one percent, which will change the orbital period by several minutes, enough to be measured by telescopes on earth.

The Didymos system is an “ideal candidate” because it does not pose a threat to earth, Vandenberg said.

The DART mission’s goal is to develop technology that would defend the plant from a potentially hazardous asteroid.

According to NASA, no known asteroid larger than 140 meters has a “significant chance” of hitting earth in the next 100 years.

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For more information on the mission, click here.