Recently, NASA has announced that the new NEA Scout spacecraft has completed all the required tests for NEO search and has been tucked inside the Space Launch Systems (SLS) rocket. As for now, this NEA Scout craft will be one of the several payloads that will be loaded on the Artemis I, which had to launch roughly in November.
The NEA Scout, or the Near-Earth Asteroid Scout, is a small-size CubeSat that has been designed by the Advanced Exploration Systems Program by NASA. As for now, this particular CubeSat camera satellite will be used for robotic reconnaissance missions to fly by and provide the related data so that any one of the nearby asteroids can be used as human destinations.
What Are CubeSats?
Before we get into the gist of this article, let us first understand more about CubeSat satellites. A CubeSat is a small-sized satellite typically used for LEO (Low-Earth Orbit) applications and space research. In most cases, these satellites do not measure more than 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm and weigh roughly about 1.33kgs. Besides being small and light, CubeSats often integrate commercial structural and electronic components for any new space mission.
Now that you know what CubeSats are, let’s learn what CubeSat camera is. As you can guess, these are camera systems that are attached to these satellites. Today, there are more than 1,200 CubeSat devices that have successfully been launched in the LEO. In most cases, these devices are used as sensor devices or Earth observation cameras.
In the case of the NEA Scout, this satellite will be a little larger than a shoebox. It will also be propelled with the aid of a solar sail that measures roughly 86-square units. This nanosatellite will also be fitted with a camera to take photographs of the asteroids to determine various physical properties like regolith characteristics, debris/dust field, rotational properties, volume/shape, etc. The NEA Scout will be the first attempt at trying to image and characterize a near-Earth asteroid.
Solar Sails: What Are They?
As mentioned above, the NEA Scout will be propelled with the help of a solar sail. These sails are thin polymer sails made of aluminum and will be fitted on top of the CubeSat satellite. The stainless steel alloy booms will be used to deploy the sails and use sunlight to reflect the solar photons and generate the required thrust; solar photons are radiated light particles from the sun.
Studies have proven that using sunlight for sailing is quite an effective way of propelling in space indefinitely. This way, novel orbits can be maintained, otherwise inaccessible, and orbital plane changes can be conducted more efficiently than conventional spacecraft utilizing chemical propulsion. The speed is very significant and can allow for rapid exploration of outer space as well.
What Will The NEA Scout Be Used For?
As mentioned previously, Near-Earth asteroids can be crucial exploration destinations for various purposes like scientific research in deep space, harnessing resources at the exploration site, resource utilization, etc.
Of course, some asteroids can be disastrous to earth; in such cases, using the best CubeSat camera resolution can help understand the properties of the asteroid so that effective strategies for minimizing potential damage can be developed. In the past few years, the need for ways to detect near-earth asteroids has risen significantly. It will only continue to grow as it will also provide opportunities for space exploration destinations.
Practically, it is not always easy to study in detail about these nearby objects. The NEA Scout will be on the best CubeSat camera modules that will prove very effective for better understanding. The nanosatellite will help identify Strategic Knowledge Gaps to determine ways for improving investment and research strategies, aid in human and robotic space exploration, increase the effectiveness, and minimize risk.
With the help of the camera on-board the NEA Scout, scientists will know almost every physical property of an asteroid like the orbit, the surface makeup, local dust fields, debris, rotational properties, volume, shape, etc. This way, we will know more about small asteroids less than 330ft, which has never been done before. It’s how the CubeSat camera works.
Role Of The NEA Scout In The Artemis Missions
The NEA Scout will hook a ride with the Artemis I, launched from the Space Launch System, once the Orion spacecraft has been separated from the upper stage. The solar sails enable after the cold gas thrusters provide the initial propulsive maneuvers for placing the spacecraft on the required trajectory. Once airborne, the NEA Scout will be transmitted from the targeted asteroid for roughly two years. After reaching the lunar vicinity, the nanosatellite will start imaging for instrument calibration.
From the above, it is now understood that CubeSat cameras can be effectively used for NEO searches and other forms of astrometry. The NEA Scout is the first step in this direction. All we have to do now is to wait for incoming reports to determine whether the project will be a success or not.
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