NASA Solar Sail Asteroid Mission ready for launch on Artemis I - NASA JPL

NASA Solar Sail Asteroid Mission ready for launch on Artemis I – NASA JPL


Engineers prepare NEA Scout for integration and shipping at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
NASA’s NEA Scout spacecraft in Gravity Off-load Fixture, system test configuration at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Illustration of NASA’s NEA Scout with the sun sail deployed as it flies past its asteroid destination.
NEA Scout sails in sunlight and takes pictures of an asteroid for scientific studies.
NASA’s Near-Earth Asteroid Scout is tucked away safely inside the agency’s powerful Space Launch System (SLS) rocket at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The solar sailing CubeSat is one of several secondary payloads goes on Artemis Ithe first integrated flight of the agency’s SLS and the Orion spacecraft.
NEA Scout, a small spacecraft about the size of a large shoe box, has been packed in a dispenser and attached to the adapter ring that connects the SLS rocket and the Orion spacecraft. The Artemis I mission will be a flight test without a crew. It also offers deep space transportation for several CubeSats, enabling opportunities for small spacecraft such as the NEA Scout to reach the moon and beyond as part of Artemis program.
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“NEA Scout will be the United States’ first interplanetary mission using a solar sail propulsion,” said Les Johnson, technical investigator for the mission at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. “Several sailing tests have been done in Earth’s orbit, and we are now ready to show that we can use this new type of spacecraft propulsion to go to new places and perform important science.”
CubeSat will use stainless steel booms to place an aluminum-coated plastic film sail – thinner than a human hair and about the size of a racquetball court. The large sail will generate traction by reflecting sunlight. Energetic particles of sunlight, so-called photons, bounce off the sun sail to give it a gentle but constant push. Over time, this constant traction can accelerate the spacecraft to very high speeds, allowing it to navigate through space and catch up with its target asteroid.
“This type of propulsion is especially useful for small, light spacecraft that cannot carry large amounts of conventional rocket propellants,” Johnson said.
NEA Scout is also a springboard to another newly selected NASA’s solar sailing mission, Solar Cruiser, which will use a sail that is 16 times larger when it flies in 2025.
NEA Scout sails in sunlight and begins an approximate two-year journey to fly past a terrestrial asteroid. When it reaches its destination, the spacecraft will use a scientific quality camera to take pictures of the asteroid – down to less than four inches (10 centimeters) per pixel – which scientists will then study to increase our understanding of these small but important solar cells system neighbors. High-resolution image processing is possible thanks to the low bypass (less than 100 feet, or 30 meters, per second) made possible by the sun 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 spacecraft.
“The images collected by the NEA Scout will provide important information about the asteroid’s physical properties such as orbit, shape, volume, rotation, the dust and debris field that surrounds it, plus its surface properties,” said Julie Castillo-Rogez, the mission’s foremost scientist. investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Earth asteroids are also important destinations for exploration, resource utilization on siteand scientific research. Over the past decade, discoveries of terrestrial asteroids have steadily increased and are expected to grow, offering expanded opportunities as exploration destinations.
“Despite their size, some of these small asteroids can pose a threat to Earth,” said Dr. Jim Stott, NEA Scout’s technology project manager. “Understanding their properties can help us develop strategies to reduce the potential harm caused in the event of an impact.”
Scientists will use this data to determine what is needed to reduce risks, increase efficiency and improve the design and operation of robots and human space explorations, Castillo-Rogez added.
NEA Scout is developed under NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems division. CubeSat is designed and developed by NASA Marshall in Huntsville, Alabama and JPL in Southern California.
Molly Porter
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
Ian J. O’Neill
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
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