This CubeSat will chase down a small asteroid after launch aboard NASA's Artemis I
Asteroids smaller than 330 feet (100 meters) across have never been explored up close before. 2020 GE, which is less than 60 feet (18 meters) in size, will be the smallest asteroid ever to be studied by a spacecraft.
"Although large asteroids are of most concern from a planetary defense perspective, objects like 2020 GE are far more common and can pose a hazard to our planet, despite their smaller size," said Julie Castillo-Rogez, the mission's principal science investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
NEA Scout will get there by unfurling a solar sail to harness solar radiation for propulsion. The mirror-like sail will generate thrust by reflecting solar photons – quantum particles of light radiating from the Sun. The sail will provide most of NEA Scout's propulsion, but small cold-gas thrusters with a limited propellant supply will also assist with maneuvers and orientation.
The advanced CubeSat will maneuver by tipping and tilting its sail to change the angle of sunlight, altering the amount of thrust and direction of travel - just like a boat uses the wind to sail.
Once it reaches its destination, NEA Scouts will use its science camera to get a closer look, measuring the object's size, shape, rotation, and surface properties while looking for any dust and debris that might surround 2020 GE.
NASA says the mission will act as a nimble scout for future human and robotic missions that may utilize asteroid resources – and will gain important planetary defense insights about this class of near-Earth asteroid.
NEA Scout will be propelled by sunlight to chase down an asteroid estimated to be smaller than a school bus - the smallest asteroid ever to be studied by a spacecraft! Read more about its mission: https://t.co/wktcSbkohO pic.twitter.com/qVsnhlux3x— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) August 16, 2022