NASA’s NEA Scout will sail on sunlight
The NEA scout mission is a joint project between NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Alabama, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. It’s one of several missions deploying solar sailing technology after the Planetary Society proved the technology is viable with its LightSail 2 mission in 2019.
In a February interview with IE, Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye (also known as “Bill Nye the Science Guy”) said, LightSail 2 completely “exceeded” his expectations and that he was excited to see what NASA and others would do with the technology.
In NASA’s statement, Les Johnson, the mission’s principal technology investigator at Marshall, suggested the solar sail technology will be key to keeping mission costs relatively low. “The genesis of this project was a question: Can we really use a tiny spacecraft to do deep space missions and produce useful science at a low cost? This is a huge challenge,” Johnson said. “For asteroid characterization missions, there’s simply not enough room on a cubesat for large propulsion systems and the fuel they require.”
Investigating asteroid 2020 GE
The NEA Scout will travel to asteroid 2020 GE, a small space rock approximately 60 feet (18 meters) across that orbits the Sun once every 368 days. To get there, the cubesat will travel past the moon for a gravitational boost. Aside from that gravitational assist, it will also use its solar sail, which measures 925 square feet (86 square meters).