Categories
sending Solar

NASA is sending a solar sail spacecraft after an asteroid

When NASA launches its uncrewed Artemis I mission to the moon, it will have a small companion along for the ride. At the same time as it carries the Orion capsule (which will orbit the moon), the Space Launch System rocket will also carry a tiny shoebox-sized smallsat called the Near-Earth Asteroid Scout (NEA Scout)…

When NASA launches its uncrewed Artemis I mission to the moon, it will have a small companion along for the ride. At the same time as it carries the Orion capsule (which will orbit the moon), the Space Launch System rocket will also carry a tiny shoebox-sized smallsat called the Near-Earth Asteroid Scout (NEA Scout) which will visit an asteroid. This particularly tiny satellite is quite unusual.

NASA

What makes NEA Scout unusual is its method of propulsion. The tiny craft will use a solar sail to move through the solar system, marking NASA’s first use of this technology for a deep space mission.

Solar sails sound like something out of science fiction, but they are indeed real – and they work. They consist of very thin, very light sails which are highly reflective. Photons of light from the sun hit the sails and propel the craft forward. 

The process involved in moving with solar sails is a lot slower to get started than other methods of propulsion, but it is extremely efficient, and allows craft to sail out into space without needing to carry fuel with them. Solar sails have already been used by spacecraft in practice in real-life missions such as LightSail 2!

The NEA Scout mission will deploy a solar sail the size of a racquetball court to visit an asteroid called 2020 GE, a smaller asteroid which is under 60 feet (18 meters) across. This asteroid is classified as a near-Earth asteroid, meaning it will come close to our planet, and the NEA Scout mission will be equipped with a camera to collect data on its size, shape, rotation, and surface properties.

It’s important to learn more about mid-sized asteroids like 2020 GE as most asteroid research has focused on larger asteroids.

“Thanks to the discoveries of NEAs by Earth-based observatories, several targets had been identified for NEA Scout, all within the 16-to-100-foot [5-to-30

Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.