The Near Earth Asteroid Scout (NEAScout) mission was selected by the Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) Division (HEOMD) in 2013. The primary purpose of this mission is to demonstrate a capability for low cost reconnaissance of prospective human exploration targets. This mission will approach and perform a slow flyby of an NEA with a 6U Cubesat platform propelled by a 80 m2 solar sail. NEAScout carries a visible camera with color filters that can achieve 13 cm/pix resolution from 1 km distance. NEA Scout mission will be launched as a secondary payload on the Space Launch System (SLS) Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), the first planned flight of the SLS and the second un-crewed test flight of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. The baseline target is 1991 VG, a 5-15 m asteroid with an orbit condition code of 2, which will be observed during its next Earth flyby in the July 2017-March 2018 timeframe.
In the course of the mission, the NEA Scout spacecraft will obtain observations directly responsive to strategic knowledge gaps for Human exploration; in particular, the target ephemeris, shape, rotational properties, spectral class, local dust and debris field, regional morphology, and regolith properties. Some of these properties will be directly measured from medium-field imaging. Others, like surface stability and soil properties, will be inferred from high-resolution imaging at
The overall implementation of NEA Scout mission embraces the paradigm change offered by Cubesat: use of off-the-shelf components and subsystems that are tailored for a long cruise in deep space. Solar sail propulsion offers navigation agility during the cruise for approaching the target. The mission also leverages onboard science data processing as the mission limited resources require key activities to be handled autonomously.
The NEA Scout mission embodies the spirit of exploration with a bold approach to human accessible target reconnaissance. By targeting a NEA smaller than 100 meters, the objectives of NEA Scout are also synergistic with other NASA interests, such as Planetary Defense and asteroid science.
The NEAScout mission is managed by the Marshall Space Flight Center in collaboration with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology. Government sponsorship acknowledged.