Following the success of Bill Nye and the Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 solar module in 2019, NASA To launch its own solar sail project to explore near-Earth asteroids, Digitartlends reported.
The Near-Earth Asteroid Scout (NEA Scout) is a small, shoebox-sized satellite that sails through sun-powered space. The devices will consist of a stainless steel arm structure through which a thin aluminum-coated plastic sail is tensioned. The total area covered by the sail is the size of a tennis court, and when photons bounce off the sun off the shiny surface, they will propel the craft forward.
As silly as this idea sounds – made famous by science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke among others – it has been shown to work in low Earth orbit by Project LightSail. Now NASA will take that one step further by deploying a solar sail into deep space.
Les Johnson, the mission’s chief technology researcher at the Marshall Flight Center, said: The space NASA: “NEA Scout will be America’s first interplanetary mission using solar gliding propulsion.” “There have been several orbital tests, and we are now ready to show that we can use this new type of spacecraft propulsion to go to new places and perform important science.”
The big advantage of this method of propulsion is that the vehicle does not need to carry fuel, which makes it a very efficient way to send small blocks over long distances.
“This type of thrust is particularly useful for small, lightweight spacecraft that cannot carry large amounts of conventional rocket fuel,” Johnson said.
NEA Scout will take a flight on NASA’s planned Artemis I mission around the Moon, which is being deployed along with several other small CubeSats. Once launched, the craft will use its solar sail to travel to a near-Earth asteroid to take high-resolution images of the asteroid up close.
“The images collected by NEA Scout will provide important information on the physical properties of the asteroid such as orbit, shape, size, rotation, and surrounding dust and debris field, as well as its surface properties,” said Julie Castillo-Rogues, the mission’s lead scientist. Investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
Recognizing small asteroids, such as those less than 100 meters in diameter, is important because asteroids of this size can be dangerous to Earth. Somewhat unexpectedly, very large asteroids are less of a threat, as they are relatively easy to spot when they get close to Earth. However, smaller asteroids are difficult to identify.
“Despite their size, some of these small asteroids can pose a threat to Earth,” said Dr. Jim Stott, director of the NEA Scout technology project. “Understanding their properties can help us develop strategies to reduce potential harm in the event of an impact.”
The NEA Scout is scheduled to launch on the Artemis I mission in November 2021.