NASA’s solar sail vehicle chases a small asteroid after Artemis I launches

NEA Scout will visit an asteroid thought to be smaller than a school bus – the smallest asteroid ever studied by a spacecraft.

Launched with the Artemis I unmanned test flight,

NASA
Established in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government that succeeded the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). It is responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research. It’s vision is “To discover and expand knowledge for the benefit of humanity.”

“> NASAA near-Earth asteroid the size of a shoebox will be chasing what will be the smallest asteroid ever visited by a spacecraft. It will get there by launching a solar sail to harness solar radiation for propulsion, making it the first space mission of its kind.

The target is 2020 GE, a near-Earth asteroid (NEA) measuring less than 60 feet (18 meters). Asteroids less than 330 feet (100 meters) wide have never been detected up close before. The spacecraft will use its science cameras to take a closer look, measuring the size, shape, rotation, and surface properties of objects while searching for dust and debris that might surround GE 2020.

Since the camera’s resolution is less than 4 inches (10 centimeters) per pixel, the mission’s science team will be able to determine whether GE 2020 is solid — like rock — or made up of tiny rocks and clumps of dust. like some of its larger asteroid cousins, such as the asteroid Bennu.

Thanks to the discovery of NEA by ground-based observatories, several targets have been identified for the NEA Scout, all within 16 to 100 feet. [5-to-30-meter] “Measures scale,” said Julie Castillo-Rogues, the mission’s principal scientific researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “2020 GE represents a class of asteroids that we currently know little about.”

The NEA Scout consists of a small CubeSat the size of a shoebox (top left) and a thin aluminum-clad solar display the size of a tennis court (bottom left). Once the spacecraft above Artemis I launches, its sails will use sunlight to propel the CubeSat into a small asteroid (shown in the illustration, right). credit: NASA

GE 2020 was first spotted on March 12, 2020 by the University of Arizona Catalina Sky Survey As part of NASA’s near-Earth object search Planetary Defense Coordination Office.

Developed under the supervision of NASA Advanced Exploration Systems Division by the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and

JPL
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). The laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of planetary robotic spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network. JPL implements programs in planetary exploration, Earth science, space-based astronomy and technology development, while applying its capabilities to technical and scientific problems of national significance.

“>Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NEA Scout is a science and technology review mission that will advance the agency’s understanding of small and medium enterprises. use six units CubeSat form factor, you will rise as one of 10 Secondary charge on top of the powerful Space Launch System (

SLS
NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) is part of NASA’s deep space exploration plans and will launch astronauts on missions to an asteroid and eventually to Mars. As the SLS evolves, the launch vehicle will to be upgraded with more powerful versions. Eventually the SLS will have the lift capability of 130 metric tons, opening new possibilities for missions to places like Saturn and Jupiter.

“>SLS), which will not launch before March 2022 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The NEA Scout will then be deployed from a distributor attached to an adapter ring that connects the rocket and the Orion spacecraft.

This mission will serve as intelligent reconnaissance for future human and robotic missions that may use asteroid resources — and will gain important planetary defense insights into this class of NEA.

“Although large asteroids are the most worrying from a planetary defense perspective, objects like 2020 GE are more common and can pose a threat to our planet, despite their small size,” said Castillo Rogues. that Meteorit Chelyabinsk It was caused by a small asteroid – about 65 feet (20 meters) in diameter – which exploded over the Russian city on February 15, 2013, causing an earthquake that shattered windows across the city and injured more than 1,600 people. It’s the same NEA class as the 2020 GE.

Low mass, high performance

Learning more about the 2020 GE asteroid is only part of the NEA Scout task. It will also feature solar sail technology for space encounters. When launched from its dispenser after launch, the spacecraft will use stainless steel

alloy
A mixture of two metallic elements typically used to give greater strength or higher resistance to corrosion.

“>bar To clean a solar screen that expands from a small block to a screen the size of a tennis court, or 925 square feet (86 square meters).

Made of plastic-coated aluminum that is thinner than a human hair, this light, mirror-like display will generate thrust by reflecting solar photons – quantum particles of light that radiate from the sun. The display will provide most of the NEA Scout’s thrust, but a small cold gas boost with limited fuel supply will also help with maneuverability and steering.

“The origin of this project is a question: Can we really use small spacecraft to carry out missions in space and produce useful science at low cost?” said Les Johnson, chief mission technology investigator at Marshall. “It’s quite challenging. For an asteroid characterization mission, there isn’t enough space on CubeSat for the massive propulsion system and fuel you need.”

The sun’s rays act as a constant force, so small spacecraft equipped with large solar sails can eventually travel several miles per second. The solar sail is a high-performance propulsion system for a low-mass, low-volume spacecraft, according to Johnson. The NEA Scout will maneuver by tilting and tilting its sails to change the angle of the sun’s rays, changing the amount of thrust and direction of travel, similar to how a boat uses the wind to sail.

In September 2023, the asteroid GE 2020 will approach Earth, and with the help of gravity from the Moon, the NEA Scout will muster enough speed to catch up. The mission navigator will adjust the direction of the NEA Scout before the spacecraft approaches within a mile of the asteroid.

“NEA Scout will achieve the slowest flight to the asteroid – at a relative speed of less than 100 feet [30 meters] said Castillo Rogues. “This will give us a few hours to gather valuable knowledge and allow us to see what asteroids in this class look like up close.”

NEA Scout paves the way for the solar sail of the future: NASA Advanced Composite Solar Screen System It will showcase its new and lightweight CubeSat solar sail gun once it launches in 2022. Furthermore, solar cruiserThe 18,000-square-foot (nearly 1,700-square-meter) solar display technology will use sunlight to travel toward the sun by 2025, which will enable future missions to better monitor space weather.

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