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.

NASA’s New Spacecraft: NEA Scout

  • About NEA Scout:
    • Near-Earth Asteroid Scout, or NEA Scout, is a miniaturized spacecraft, known as a CubeSat, developed under NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) Program.
      • AES pioneers new approaches for rapidly developing prototype systems, demonstrating key capabilities, and validating operational concepts for future human missions beyond low-Earth orbit.
    • Its main mission is to fly by and collect data from a near-Earth asteroid.
      • It will take about two years to cruise to the asteroid and will be about 93 million miles away from Earth during the asteroid encounter.
    • It will also be America’s first interplanetary mission using a special solar sail propulsion.
      • So far, spacecraft have been using solar energy to power them and execute critical functions.
      • This will be the first time that a spacecraft uses it as wind to generate thrust and move forward.
    • It is one of several payloads that will hitch a ride on Artemis I, which is expected to be launched in November, 2021.
      • Artemis I will be an uncrewed testflight of the Orion spacecraft and SLS rocket.
      • It is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions that will enable human exploration to the Moon and Mars.
    • NEA Scout launches to the Moon in 2021 with a fleet of other small satellites aboard Artemis 1.
      • At the Moon, NEA Scout will deploy its 86-square-meter solar sail and slowly spiral out of lunar orbit.
      • It will travel to a near-Earth asteroid and perform a slow fly-by, capturing up-close images of the surface.
  • 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.
  • Near-Earth Objects (NEOs):
    • NEOs are comets and asteroids pushed by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits which allow them to enter the Earth’s neighbourhood.
    • These objects are composed mostly of water ice with embedded dust particles.
    • NEOs occasionally approach close to the Earth as they orbit the Sun.
    • NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Study (CNEOS) determines the time and distances of these objects, when their approach to the Earth is close, through the Asteroid Watch Widget.

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