Navigating the First Planetary Defense Mission

DRACO is the payload instrument on NASA’s first planetary defense mission, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) to change the course of an asteroid.

About the Instrument

Instrument Type
Optical

The Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation (DRACO) is the lone instrument on the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), which will perform a kinetic impactor demonstration by intercepting and striking an asteroid to cause a deflection of its orbit. DRACO is the sensor that enables the intercept. A high-resolution camera derived from the New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager, DRACO’s main jobs are to support spacecraft navigation and targeting toward the Didymos asteroid system; to measure the size and shape of the target asteroid, Didymos’ small moon, Dimorphos; and to provide detailed views of the site where DART will slam into Dimorphos at 4 miles (7 kilometers) per second.

DRACO Instrument
A detailed, 3D rendering of the DRACO instrument, which will image the Didymos asteroid system during the DART mission.

DRACO uses an 8.2-inch (20.8-centimeter) aperture telescope and a CMOS (complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor) imaging sensor. It will begin to image the Didymos system about 30 days before DART hits Dimorphos. In the terminal phase, DRACO images are processed autonomously on the spacecraft to determine course corrections to make an intercept. The final DRACO images sent back to Earth will provide important constraints for modeling and interpreting the results of DART’s hypervelocity impact.

Mission