A giant asteroid threatening all life on Earth is a scenario worthy of a disaster movie, but we should not forget that it already happened millions of years ago. If the dinosaurs were still in this world, they would still remember them… This is why it is essential for NASA to know as much as possible about these celestial bodies wandering in space.
It is within the framework of the Artemis I mission, which should allow humanity to set foot on the Moon, that a probe will be launched to study one of these flying stones. In this case, it is 2020 GE, a little-known class of asteroids. The mission of NEA Scout (NEA for “Near Earth Asteroid”) will be to collect as many images as possible of the object which measures 18 meters in diameter.
A space shoebox
With its cubic design, the probe looks like a big shoebox (known as a CubeSat). Taking place in the Orion module of Artemis I, the NEA Scout will launch on March 12. Once detached from the launcher, the probe will approach 2020 GE thanks to a huge solar sail of 86 square meters. A huge size compared to the device! But it is essential to obtain the necessary impulse for the engine.
The goal is to get close enough to the asteroid when it is closest to Earth (don’t panic, we are talking about 5.7 million kilometers). NASA wants to know if the object is composed of a solid block or on the contrary of rocks and dust. This information will condition the development of a response, the day when we need to move away an asteroid approaching a little too close to our planet.
The US space agency launched a Partnership for Future Space Exploration Technologies (NextSTEP) in 2015 to develop innovative ways to peek into what’s happening in space. It is within this project that the NEA Scout was developed.