NASA’s new solar sailboat will chase a tiny asteroid

(ORDO NEWS) — Launched alongside the uncrewed Artemis I mission, NASA’s shoebox-sized satellite called the Near-Earth Asteroid Scout will chase down an asteroid that will become the tiniest space rock ever visited by a research probe. The device will reach its target using a solar sail, which allows it to develop traction due to solar energy.

The target of the mission is the near-Earth asteroid 2020 GE, which is less than 18 meters in diameter. Asteroids smaller than 100 meters have never before been explored from such close range.

The spacecraft will use the onboard science camera to obtain information about the object’s size and shape, its rotation parameters and surface properties, while also paying attention to the dust and debris surrounding the 2020 GE asteroid.

Since the camera has a resolution of less than 10 centimeters per pixel, the mission’s science team will be able to determine whether the material of asteroid 2020 GE is a monolith or a porous structure.

“Thanks to the discovery of near-Earth asteroids using ground-based observatories, the NEA Scout mission was able to target several targets ranging in size from 5 to 30 meters,” said Julie Castillo-Rogez, Project Manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, USA. “Asteroid 2020 GE belongs to a very poorly understood class.”

Asteroid 2020 GE was first discovered on March 12, 2020 using the Catalina Sky Survey of the University of Arizona, USA, as part of NASA’s search for near-Earth objects.

Obtaining new information about asteroid 2020 GE will not be the only goal of the NEA Scout mission. It will also help demonstrate solar sail technology for space travel beyond Earth’s orbit. Once launched, the craft will deploy stainless steel masts and stretch a solar sail between them spanning an area of ​​about 86 square meters.

In September 2023, the 2020 GE asteroid will come as close as possible to the Earth, and using a gravitational maneuver around the Moon, the NEA Scout will develop a high enough speed to catch up with the asteroid.

Mission controllers will correct the trajectory of the NEA Scout before it approaches the space rock within 1.5 kilometers.


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