The Near Earth Asteroid Explorer (NEA) was one of 10 cubes to make the journey into space aboard NASA. Artemis 1 The mission, which launched on November 16, the spacecraft is designed to sail in sunlight to fly over a small ship asteroid Call it the 2020 GE about a year from now. But something seems to have gone wrong after deploying the cubes.
After separation and successful deployment from NASA Space launch system (SLS) On Nov. 16, the Near Earth Scout (NEA Scout) project team did not make contact with the spacecraft, NASA officials wrote in an emailed statement. “Teams continue to work to initiate contact with the NEA Scout.”
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In particular, the NEA Scout staff hopes the spacecraft’s unusual propulsion strategy will help them track down the cubes. Packaged in a reflective, silver mini-satellite solar sail It measures 924 square feet (86 square meters) — larger than a racquetball court, according to NASA.
If all went smoothly, the NEA Scout planned to deploy its sail in early December, according to a NASA spokesperson, and then use the solar radiation it hits to reach the asteroid. Instead, despite not being heard from the spacecraft, NASA personnel broadcast a command to “deploy an emergency solar sail” twice on Monday (November 21) in hopes that the highly visible sail would help them find the cubes.
“If the spacecraft is listening and successfully opens its sail, it can be seen from telescopes on Earth,” NASA officials wrote. “Many ground-based observatories are trying to find the NEA Scout and share the data, which will be invaluable in helping to determine the status of the spacecraft.”
NEA Scout isn’t the only cube from Artemis 1’s release last week. For example, OMOTENASHI, a small Japanese lunar lander, Missed her rendezvous with the moon And another NASA cubesat, LunaH-Map, He missed a crucial engine fire It also flew over the moon on Monday. The agency added the cubes to Artemis 1 knowing that smaller missions carried more risk than larger spacecraft with more redundancy and robustness built into the design.
Other cubes launched last week seem to do the same do better. An Italian cube called ArgoMoon has been successfully created Send amazing photos home to the Moon and Earth, and a second Japanese mission, called EQUULEUS, reported the presence Safely first manned flight on the moon.
If the NEA Scout recovers, it will be the first NASA solar sail to leave Earth’s orbit; If the asteroid reaches 2020 GE safely, the spacecraft will likely make the slowest flyby of the asteroid to date, and it will become the smallest asteroid visited by any spacecraft, According to NASA.