Solar sail asteroid explorer to launch aboard Artemis 1

In preparation for its 2025 Solar Cruiser mission, NASA is preparing to launch a solar sail technology demonstrator aboard Artemis 1.
The NEA Scout solar sail CubeSat will be launched along with NASA’s Artemis 1 mission to the Moon | Image credit: NASA

NASA’s Artemis 1 mission to the Moon will carry a solar sailing CubeSat as part of an array of secondary payloads.

Artemis 1 is the first integrated test of NASA’s SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft. In addition to its primary payload, the mission will also carry several secondary payloads in an adaptor that connects the spacecraft to the rocket.

One of the secondary payloads hitching a ride is the Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA) Scout.

The shoebox-sized NEA Scout CubeSat is equipped with an 86-square-meter deployable aluminum-coated plastic film solar sail. Once deployed, energetic particles of sunlight, called photons, will bounce off the sail propelling it forwards. Without any environmental factors exerting drag, the constant thrust can accelerate the spacecraft to very high speeds.

Equipped with a “science-grade” camera, NEA Scout will embark on a two-year journey to rendezvous with a near-Earth asteroid to capture high-resolution imagery of its surface. The imagery captured by the NEA Scout will be utilised to further understand these small but important solar system neighbors.

“The images gathered by NEA Scout will provide critical information on the asteroid’s physical properties such as orbit, shape, volume, rotation, the dust and debris field surrounding it, plus its surface properties,” said Julie Castillo-Rogez, the mission’s principal science investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In addition to its primary mission, the NEA Scout will also serve as a technology demonstrator for the agency’s upcoming Solar Cruiser mission.

Slated to be launched in 2025, Solar Cruiser will be equipped with a sail 16 times larger than that of the NEA Scout CubeSat. The mission is designed to assist weather scientists to provide more advanced warning of solar storms heading for Earth.

Andrew Parsonson is a space enthusiast and the founder of Rocket Rundown. He has worked as a journalist and blogger for various industries for over 5 years and has a passion for both fictional and real-life space travel. Currently, Andrew is the primary writer for Rocket Rundown as we look to expand our reach and credibility.