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LICIACube: All about the photographer of NASA's DART mission

An illustration of NASA’s DART spacecraft and the Italian Space Agency’s (ASI) LICIACube prior to impact at the Didymos binary system. (via REUTERS)Premium
An illustration of NASA’s DART spacecraft and the Italian Space Agency’s (ASI) LICIACube prior to impact at the Didymos binary system. (via REUTERS)

Although the DART Impactor spacecraft is receiving most of the attention, the NASA Cubesat satellite LICIACube, which performed the crucial task of taking pictures of the crash, is receiving relatively little attention

NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test or DART has crashed a spacecraft into an asteroid in an attempt to divert the celestial body of its trajectory and avoid striking Earth. Since the NASA DART mission's successful conclusion, much has been said—and for all the right reasons—about how this endeavour might represent the first significant step toward the creation of a workable planetary defence system against rogue asteroids.

Even though the majority of the attention is going towards the spacecraft called the DART Impactor, not much attention is being given to the NASA Cubesat satellite called LICIACube which took the photographs of the crash.

What is LICIACube?

The LICIACube, also known as the Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging Asteroids, was launched from the Earth alongside the DART impactor. The CubeSat was given the important task of taking pictures prior to the collision and then flying away and taking pictures of the wreckage left behind.

Three minutes after impact, the CubeSat was able to take and send images. To accomplish this task, the spacecraft ejected the CubeSat minutes before the impact.

The role of LICIACube

The two cameras on CubeSat are capable of comprehensive images to provide NASA with the essential information regarding the crash.

The cameras have been designed to take an image every six seconds till the impact. And afterward, during its flyby of the asteroid, LICIACube 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 was also entrusted to visit another side of the asteroid and take images, something the NASA DART Impactor was never able to see.

If there is enough propellant left in it, it may perform another flyby of the asteroid after spending a few weeks sending this data to Earth.

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.

Images sent back by LICIACube

First image

Image captured by the Italian Space Agency’s LICIACube a few minutes after the intentional collision of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission with its target asteroid, Dimorphos,
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Image captured by the Italian Space Agency’s LICIACube a few minutes after the intentional collision of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission with its target asteroid, Dimorphos, (ASI/NASA)

Second image

Image captured by the Italian Space Agency’s LICIACube a few minutes after the intentional collision of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission with its target asteroid, Dimorphos,
View Full Image
Image captured by the Italian Space Agency’s LICIACube a few minutes after the intentional collision of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission with its target asteroid, Dimorphos, (ASI/NASA)

Third Image

Image captured by the Italian Space Agency’s LICIACube a few minutes after the intentional collision of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission with its target asteroid, Dimorphos
View Full Image
Image captured by the Italian Space Agency’s LICIACube a few minutes after the intentional collision of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission with its target asteroid, Dimorphos (ASI/NASA)

The payload on LICIACube

The CubeSat was equipped with two cameras, an X-band communication system, and an advanced onboard computer.

One of the two cameras has a monochrome sensor and a 2.06-degree field of view (FOV). Its name is LEIA (LICIACube Explorer Imaging for Asteroid).

The other camera, LUKE (LICIACube Unit Key Explorer), has an RGB Bayer infrared filter and a wide-angle 5° FoV imager.

(With inputs from agencies)

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