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NEA Scout



The Near-Earth Asteroid Scout (NEA Scout) mission employs a 6U CubeSat and a solar sail to fly by and return images of a Near Earth Asteroid. The primary objectives of the mission are to make at least one slow close flyby and return images and observe the asteroid's position in space, shape, rotational properties, spectral class, local dust and debris field, regional morphology, and regolith properties. The spacecraft is scheduled to be a ride-on mission on the Artemis 1 launch in 2022.

Spacecraft and Subsystems

NEA Scout is a 6U (10 x 20 x 30 cm) CubeSat with a deployable 86 square meter solar sail. Total mass of the spacecraft is about 14 kg. Power is supplied by two deployable HAWK solar panels and rechargeable lithium batteries. Attitude is maintained by a cold gas reaction control system, reaction wheels, star trackers, and sun sensors. Communications are in X-band via the Iris transponder system, a pair of low-gain patch antennas, and two medium-gain antenna panels. The camera, NEACam, is a 20 M pixel CMOS image sensor with a useful array size of 3840 x 3840 pixels. A radiation hardened LEON 3 computer controls spacecraft operations and onboard image processing.

The solar sail is the main source of propulsion for the mission. It is a thin square sheet, roughly 9.3 m on a side, held in place by four 7.3 m long metallic booms. It is folded up in the 6U bus and deployed after launch and satellite release.

Mission Profile

After launch as a ride-on on Artemis 1 on an SLS Block 1 booster, scheduled for for August 2022 at the earliest, the NEA Scout will use lunar flybys and its solar sails to spiral out of the Earth-Moon system. Over approximately 2 years it will reach the asteroid, conduct a target detection and approach phase, a reconnaissance phase, and a close proximity science phase.

The target detection and approach phase begins when the spacecraft gets within about 40,000 - 50,000 km of the asteroid and involves identifying the target and making precise ephemeris determinations over a few weeks to prepare for the flyby. The reconnaissance phase begins when the spacecraft is within 100 - 120 km of the asteroid, lasts up to a few hours, and involves studying the asteroid's volume, global shape, spin properties, and local environment. This phase should return imaging at 50 cm/pixel or better over 80% of the asteroid's surface. This will be followed by a science data downlink phase. The duration of these mission phases are highly dependent on the final target asteroid chosen and the actual launch date.

Close proximity science starts when the spacecraft gets within about 1 km and involves a slow flyby (5 - 20 m/s) of the asteroid and return of close-up (10 cm/pixel at 800 m range) images covering over 30% of the surface. Even at these slow speeds close approach will only last about 20 seconds. These images will be used to study the local morphology and regolith properties. Total mission time is a little over 2 years. Asteroid 2020 GE, estimated to be about 4 - 18 meters across, is the current baseline NEA Scout target, to be encountered in November 2023. Other asteroids may be considered depending on actual launch time, orbital conditions, and the possible future asteroid discoveries.

Image credit: NASA

Alternate Names

    Facts in Brief

    Launch Date: 
    Launch Vehicle: SLS Block 1 Crew
    Launch Site: Cape Canaveral, United States
    Mass: 14 kg

    Funding Agency

    • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (United States)


    • Planetary Science

    Additional Information

    Questions and comments about this spacecraft can be directed to: Dr. David R. Williams



    NameRoleOriginal AffiliationE-mail
    Dr. Barbara CohenProject ManagerNASA Goddard Space Flight
    Dr. Leslie McNuttProject ManagerNASA Marshall Space Flight
    Dr. Julie Castillo-RogezMission Principal InvestigatorNASA Jet Propulsion
    Dr. Charles Les JohnsonMission Principal InvestigatorNASA Marshall Space Flight
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