Near-Earth Asteroid Scout

News: Recently, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has announced that its new spacecraft, named Near-Earth Asteroid Scout or NEA Scout, has completed all required tests and has been safely tucked inside the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.

About NEA Scout:

  • NEA Scout is one of several payloads that will hitch a ride on Artemis I, which is expected to be launched in November. Artemis I will be an uncrewed test-flight of the Orion spacecraft and SLS rocket.
  • Under the Artemis programme, NASA has aimed to land the first woman on the Moon in 2024 and also establish sustainable lunar exploration programs by 2030.
  • Near-Earth Asteroid Scout, or NEA Scout, is a small spacecraft, about the size of a big shoebox. Its main mission is to fly by and collect data from a near-Earth asteroid.
  • It will also be America’s first interplanetary mission using special solar sail propulsion.
  • This type of propulsion is especially useful for small, lightweight spacecraft that cannot carry large amounts of conventional rocket propellant. NEA Scout will use stainless steel alloy booms and deploy an aluminium-coated sail measuring 925 square feet. The large-area sail will generate thrust by reflecting sunlight.
  • Energetic particles of sunlight bounce off the solar sail to give it a gentle, yet constant push.
  • NEA Scout is equipped with special cameras and can take pictures ranging from 50 cm/pixels to 10 cm/pixels. It can also process the image and reduce the file sizes before sending them to the earth-based Deep Space Network via its medium-gain antenna. The spacecraft will take about two years to cruise to the asteroid and will be about 93 million miles away from Earth during the asteroid encounter.

Significance:

  • The images gathered by NEA Scout will provide critical information on the asteroid’s physical properties such as orbit, shape, volume, rotation, the dust and debris field surrounding it, plus its surface properties.
  • The spacecraft will pave the way for the Solar Cruiser, which will use a sail 16 times larger when it flies in 2025. Studying Near-Earth asteroids can help in developing strategies for reducing the potential damage caused in the event of an impact.
  • Data can be used to determine what is required to reduce risk, increase effectiveness, and improve the design and operations of robotic and human space exploration.