Explained: What makes NASA’s new spacecraft NEA Scout special?

Source: Indian Express

 What is the News?

NASA has 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.

NEA Scout is one of several payloads that will launch on Artemis I which is expected to be launched in November 2021.

Artemis I: It is a planned uncrewed test flight for NASA’s Artemis program. Under the Artemis program, NASA has aimed to land the first woman on the Moon in 2024 and also establish sustainable lunar exploration programs by 2030.

About NEA Scout Spacecraft:
  • Near-Earth Asteroid Scout or NEA Scout is a small spacecraft developed under NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Program.
  • Aim: Its main mission is to fly by and collect data from a near-Earth asteroid.
    • It will take about two years to cruise to the asteroid and will be about 93 million miles away from Earth during the asteroid encounter.
  • Significance: It will also be the USA’s first interplanetary mission using special solar sail propulsion.
    • A solar sail, simply put, is a spacecraft propelled by sunlight. Whereas conventional rockets are propelled by the combustion of rocket fuel, a solar sail is pushed forward by light from the Sun.
Why should we study Near-Earth Asteroids?
  • Despite their small size, some of these near-earth asteroids could pose a threat to Earth.
  • Hence, understanding their properties could help us develop strategies for reducing the potential damage caused in the event of an impact.
  • Moreover, scientists will use this data to determine what is required to reduce risk, increase effectiveness and improve the design and operations of robotic and human space exploration.
What are Near Earth Objects(NEO)?
  • These are comets and asteroids pushed by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits which allow them to enter the Earth’s neighbourhood.
  • They are composed mostly of water ice with embedded dust particles.
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