NASA’s Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA) ready for Artemis I launch
Pasadena, California – NASA’s Near-Earth Asteroid Scout (NEA) is safely hidden inside the agency’s powerful Space Launch System (SLS) rocket at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The CubeSat solar sailboat is one of many secondary payloads to hitchhike Artemis I, the first integrated flight of the agency’s SLS and the Orion probe.
NEA Scout, a small spacecraft about the size of a large shoebox, was packaged in a dispenser and attached to the adapter ring that connects the SLS rocket and the Orion spacecraft.
The Artemis I mission will be an unmanned flight test. It also provides deep space transport for multiple CubeSats, allowing small spacecraft like NEA Scout to reach the Moon and beyond as part of the Artemis program.
âNEA Scout will be America’s first interplanetary mission using solar sail propulsion,â said Les Johnson, senior technology researcher for the mission at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. “There have been several tests of the sail in Earth orbit, and we are now ready to show that we can use this new type of spacecraft propulsion to go to new places and do important scientific research.”
The CubeSat will use stainless steel alloy poles to deploy an aluminum-clad plastic film sail – thinner than a human hair and the size of a racquetball court. The large area sail will generate thrust by reflecting sunlight.
Energetic particles of sunlight, called photons, bounce off the solar sail to give it a gentle but constant thrust. Over time, this constant thrust can accelerate the spacecraft to very high speeds, allowing it to navigate space and catch up with its target asteroid.
âThis type of propulsion is particularly useful for small, lightweight spacecraft that cannot carry large amounts of conventional rocket thruster,â Johnson said.
NEA Scout is also a stepping stone to another recently selected NASA’s solar sail mission, Solar Cruiser, which will use a sail 16 times the size when it flies in 2025.
Sailing in the light of the sun, NEA Scout will embark on a journey of about two years to fly over an asteroid close to Earth. Once at its destination, the spacecraft will use a science-grade camera to capture images of the asteroid – down to less than four inches (10 centimeters) per pixel – which scientists will then study to deepen our understanding of these little ones. but important solar. neighbors of the system. High-resolution imagery is made possible by the low-speed overflight (less than 100 feet, or 30 meters, per second) enabled by solar sail.
The data obtained will help scientists understand a smaller class of asteroids – those measuring less than 100 meters (330 feet) in diameter – that have never been explored by a spacecraft.
“The images collected by NEA Scout will provide essential information about the physical properties of the asteroid such as orbit, shape, volume, rotation, field of dust and debris surrounding it, as well as its properties. surface, âsaid Julie Castillo-Rogez, the mission’s senior scientist. researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Near-Earth asteroids are also important destinations for exploration, use of in situ resources, and scientific research. Over the past decade, near-Earth asteroid detections have steadily increased and are expected to increase, providing increased opportunities as exploration destinations.
“Despite their size, some of these small asteroids could pose a threat to Earth,” said Dr Jim Stott, NEA Scout technology project leader. âUnderstanding their properties could help us develop strategies to reduce the potential damage caused in the event of an impact. “
Scientists will use this data to determine what is needed to reduce risk, increase efficiency and improve the design and operations of robotic and human space exploration, Castillo-Rogez added.
NEA Scout is developed by the Advanced Exploration Systems division of NASA. The CubeSat is designed and developed by NASA Marshall in Huntsville, Alabama, and JPL in Southern California.
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