TWIRL 40: NASA to launch its first planetary defence test mission

The TWIRL logo in front of an illustration of the DART mission

We’ve got five launches set to take place this week from various locations including China, America and Kazakhstan. The most interesting mission comes from NASA which will have SpaceX launch the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) probe which will impact an asteroid called Dimorphos next year. NASA is pitching the mission as its first planetary defence test mission as a similar technique could stop asteroids striking the Earth in the future.

Monday, November 22

The first launch of the week takes place on Monday at 10:44 p.m. UTC at China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. A Long March CZ-2C rocket topped with the YZ-1S upper stage will launch a payload. It’s unclear what the payload for the mission is but we might know by the time of the recap in TWIRL 41.

Wednesday, November 24

The second mission of the week is the launch of the DART probe that was mentioned at the top of the article. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will carry the probe out of Earth’s gravity before it sets a course for asteroid 65803 Didymos. The asteroid is a binary asteroid which means it has a satellite orbiting it – this satellite is known as Dimorphos and will be DART’s impact target. As things stand, the impact is due to take place on September 30, 2022, but variables cause the schedule to shift.

The DART mission doesn’t carry any scientific payloads, just a camera called DRACO which will help to target the Didymos system. An interesting aspect of this mission is the inclusion of the NEXT-C ion engine. Compared to other ion engines, NEXT-C is described as having improved performance, thrust, and fuel efficiency. Though not the primary propulsion system on DART, NEXT-C will demonstrate its potential for use in other deep-space missions. This mission will launch at 6:20 a.m. UTC and will be available from NASA’s and SpaceX’s live streams on their websites.

The third launch of the week also takes off on Wednesday but this time at 1:06 p.m. UTC from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. This time a Soyuz 2.1b rocket will launch a modified Progress spacecraft with the UM node module to the International Space Station. UM is short of Uzlovoy Module and has the designation Prichal. It will be added to the ISS and provide four ports to mount additional modules and an additional docking port for cargo and crew spacecraft.

The third and final launch on Wednesday takes place at 4 p.m. UTC from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center. Again secretive, a Chinese Long March CZ-3B rocket will carry an unknown payload into orbit.

Thursday, November 25

The fifth and final mission of the week comes from Russia’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome at 1:09 a.m. UTC. A Soyuz 2.1b with a Fregat-M upper stage will launch EKS 5, a component of Russia’s new unified missile early warning network. The Edinaya Kosmicheskaya Sistema (EKS) system will be able to detect ballistic missiles launched from the ground or sea as well as some cruise missiles. The satellite will also be able to work out the flight path of missiles and relay data back to ground stations for more accurate tracking.


The first launch last week took place on November 16 from French Guiana when a Vega rocket launched CERES 1, 2, and 3 for the French military. The satellites will be used for signals intelligence.

The second launch took place on November 18 from New Zealand. Rocket Lab launched an Electron rocket as part of the ‘Love At First Insight’ mission which orbited two BlackSky satellites.

Next up we had a launch in the early hours (UTC) of November 20 from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in China. A Long March 4-B rocket launched the Gaofen-11 03 Earth observation satellite. The satellite will perform various tasks to improve economic and social developments.

The final launch also took place today but a bit later than the last mission a 6:16 a.m. UTC. Astra Space launched Rocket 3.3 from the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Alaska. The mission carried a test payload to measure the launch environment of the rocket for the US Space Force.

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