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NASA’s Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) Scout

NASA’s Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) Scout

CONTEXT:

  • NASA announced that its new spacecraft, named NEA Scout, has completed all required tests and has been safely tucked inside the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.

KEY DETAILS:

  • NEA Scout is one of several payloads that will hitch a ride on Artemis I, which is expected to be launched in November.

  • Artemis I will be an uncrewed testflight of the Orion spacecraft and SLS rocket.

  • Under the Artemis programme, NASA has aimed to land the first woman on the Moon in 2024 and also establish sustainable lunar exploration programs by 2030.

Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA) Scout:

  • It is a small spacecraft, about the size of a big shoebox. 

  • Its main mission is to fly by and collect data from a near-Earth asteroid.

  • It will also be America’s first interplanetary mission using special solar sail propulsion.

    • This type of propulsion is especially useful for small, lightweight spacecraft that cannot carry large amounts of conventional rocket propellant.

  • NEA Scout will use stainless steel alloy booms and deploy an aluminum-coated sail measuring 925 square feet.

    • The large-area sail will generate thrust by reflecting sunlight.

    • Energetic particles of sunlight bounce off the solar sail to give it a gentle, yet constant push. 

    • Over time, this constant thrust can accelerate the spacecraft to very high speeds, allowing it to navigate through space and catch up to its target asteroid.

  • The spacecraft will take about two years to cruise to the asteroid and:

    •  Will be about 93 million miles away from Earth during the asteroid encounter.

  • Working:

    • NEA Scout is equipped with special cameras and can take pictures ranging from 50 cm/pixels to 10 cm/pixels.

    • It can also process the image and reduce the file sizes before sending them to the earth-based Deep Space Network via its medium-gain antenna.

    • 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

      • its surface properties

REASONS TO EXPLORE ASTEROIDS:

  • Despite their size, some of these small asteroids could pose a threat to Earth.

  • Understanding their properties could help us develop strategies for reducing the potential damage caused in the event of an impact.

  • Scientists will use this data to determine what is required to:

    • reduce risk

    • increase effectiveness

    • improve the design and operations of robotic and human space exploration

NEAR EARTH ASTEROIDS (NEA)

  • Near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) are asteroids whose orbits are close to Earth's orbit.

    • Some NEAs' orbits intersect Earth's so they pose a collision danger.

  • NEAs only survive in their orbits for 10 million to 100 million years.

  • They are eventually eliminated by :

    • orbital decay and accretion by the Sun

    • Collisions with the inner planets.

    • By being ejected from the solar system by near misses with the planets.

  • NEAs are most easily accessible for spacecraft from Earth; in fact, some can be reached with much less delta-v than it takes to reach the Moon.

MISSIONS TO ASTEROIDS:

  • OSIRIS-REx – NASA sample Return Mission to Asteroid Bennu (2016)

  • Hayabusa2 - JAXA Sample Return Mission to Asteroid Ryugu (2014)

  • PROCYON - JAXA Small Satellite Asteroid Flyby Mission (2014)

  • Dawn - NASA Orbiter of Asteroids Ceres and Vesta (2007)

SOURCE: Indian Express