Asteroid collision: All about the mysterious NASA Cubesat satellite that took crash photos | Tech News

Asteroid collision: All about the mysterious NASA Cubesat satellite that took crash photos

A NASA cubesat satellite called LICIACube played an incredibly important role in the DART mission. Know all about this mysterious tech marvel.

| Updated on: Sep 28 2022, 16:33 IST
In Pics: Historic $300 mn NASA DART asteroid collision a success; 1st step to save Earth
DART mission
1/5 DART mission is NASA’s $330 million first step to protect the planet against asteroids against potential impact. The aim of the mission was to smash a spacecraft into the Dimorphos asteroid to deflect it away from its path. This test will help scientists gain greater knowledge as to what happens when a craft is crashed against a space rock. (AP)
DART mission
2/5 After months of anticipation, this test took place during today’s early hours when the DART spacecraft sacrificed itself by colliding with Dimorphos asteroid at 7:14 p.m. EDT. According to NASA, Dimorphos is an asteroid moonlet just 530 feet in width and orbits a larger asteroid called Didymos, nearly 5 times its size. (NASA)
DART mission
3/5 NASA DART test was captured by a small companion satellite which followed the DART spacecraft to the target asteroid Dimorphos. The spacecraft’s camera is a cubeSAT called LICIACube (Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging Asteroids). The cubeSAT is made up of two key components, LUKE (LICIACube Unit Key Explorer) and LEIA (LICIACube Explorer Imaging for Asteroid), both of which capture key data from the collision. (Bloomberg)
DART mission
4/5 European Space Agency’s Hera spacecraft will fly to the asteroid to survey the aftermath of impact and gather information such as the size of impact crater, the mass of the asteroid and its make-up and internal structure using its CubeSAT satellite to conduct a radar probe of the asteroid after the collision (ESA)
DART mission
5/5 Tech behind DART spacecraft - Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation (DRACO) along with Small-body Maneuvering Autonomous Real Time Navigation (SMART Nav) algorithms aboard the DART spacecraft allowed it to distinguish between the larger Didymos and its target Dimorphos, striking the asteroid with precision accuracy, according to NASA. (NASA )
DART mission
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Know all about the sidekick of the NASA DART mission, a cubesat satellite called LICIACube. (Bloomberg)

Ever since the successful conclusion to the NASA DART mission where a spacecraft smashed into the asteroid Dimorphos, much has been said about how this effort could be the first real step towards developing a practical planetary defense mechanism against rogue asteroids, and for all the right reasons. But while a majority of the attention is going towards the hero of the mission, the spacecraft called the DART Impactor, not much attention is being given to the NASA Cubesat satellite which performed the all important task of taking photos of the crash. Known as the LICIACube, this tiny tech marvel has played a bigger role in this mission than you realize. Read on to find out.

LICIACube or Light Italian Cubesat for Imaging Asteroids was the trusted sidekick of the DART impactor and was launched from the Earth along with it. The cubesat was given an important task of taking images up to the impact and then to fly away and click images of the debris left by the collision. The cubesat was capable of taking and sending images just three minutes after the impact. For this, the spacecraft ejected the cubesat minutes before the impact. So let us see what makes this possible is its cool tech stack.

The role of the LICIACube in DART mission

The cubesat was equipped with two cameras, an X-band communication system, and an advanced on-board computer. Among the two cameras, one is a monochrome camera with a narrow field of view (FOV) of 2.06 degrees. It is called LEIA (LICIACube Explorer Imaging for Asteroid). The other camera is called LUKE (LICIACube Unit Key Explorer) which contains a wide 5° FoV imager with an RGB Bayer pattern infrared filter.

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These two cameras together can take comprehensive images to provide NASA with the essential information regarding the crash. The camera has been designed to take an image every six seconds till the impact. And afterwards during its flyby of the asteroid, it was tasked with taking three high resolution images focusing on the asteroid, the impact and the debris left behind.

Interestingly, during its flyby, the LICIACube will also visit the other side of the asteroid and take images, something the NASA DART Impactor was never able to see. After its flyby, it will spend a few weeks sending this data to Earth and depending on how much propellent is left within it, it might do another flyby of the asteroid.

Most importantly, the data that this CubeSat sends back to NASA will go a long way in indicating whether the DART mission was a success beyond the impact itself.

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First Published Date: 28 Sep, 16:31 IST