NASA has a crazy plan to sail to an asteroid

Three images show the small satellite, the outstretched reflective sail, and an artist's rendering of the spacecraft attached to the asteroid.

NASA wants drive a shoebox-sized spaceship to a asteroid with a solar sail, the agency’s first space mission to use such a mechanism.

the Near-Earth Asteroid Scout (NEA Scout) is a minor Craft called CubeSat, and it will be one of 10 secondary payloads on the upcoming Artemis I unmanned test flight (currently scheduled for March 2022). The satellite is only about the size of a shoebox, but the reflective sail that will carry it through space is unfolding too 925 square meters. Gas engines will put the CubeSat on a trajectory to the nearby asteroid target, but solar sail will do the propulsion work for the remainder of the two-year journey.

Solar sails use the momentum of the Sun’s photons to propel spacecraft forward. Because rocket fuel is a significant factor Given the weight of spacecraft and their lifespan in space, it pays to use as little as possible. The larger the shade sail, the more sunlight the vehicle can capture. By changing the position of the sail too the NEA Scout can change the angle of incidence of the solar radiation its trajectory.

The Scout will fly to an asteroid called 2020 GE, which was first seen in March 2020 (hence its name). The asteroid is less than 60 feet in diameter, and since asteroids its size have never been explored up close, it is a great goodbyech aim. Smaller stones can still have harmful effects when they hit the ground, like them Chelyabinsk Meteor In 2013.

„Although large asteroids are of most concern from a planetary defense perspective, objects like 2020 GE are far more common and, despite their smaller size, can pose a threat to our planet,” said Julie Castillo-Rogez, the lead science investigator for the NEA Scout mission NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in an agency release. „2020 GE represents a class of asteroids about which we currently know very little.”

The CubeSat has a camera on board to gather information about it Composition, size and characteristics of 2020 GE. It could be a solid rock or a collection of dusty and smaller rocks clustered together like an asteroid Determine. Asteroids continue to be a point of interest for NASA; the Lucy mission to study Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids started in October 2021 and the Psyche mission is set to start this August.

Apart from asteroids, the NEA Scout also paves the way for two more solar sails Missions: the Advanced Composite Solar Sail System, which is scheduled to start in mid-2022 at the earliest, according to the NASA website, and the sun cruiserthat will go towards the sun in 2025 with a whopping 18,000 square foot sail. The future for space sailing technology is bright.

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