NASA solar sail CubeSat ready for launch on Artemis I

NASA’s Near-Earth Asteroid Scout is tucked away safely inside the agency’s powerful Space Launch System (SLS) rocket at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The solar sailing CubeSat is the secondary payload hitching a ride on Artemis I.

NEA Scout has been packaged into a dispenser and attached to the adapter ring that connects the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft. The Artemis I mission will be an uncrewed flight test. It also offers deep space transportation for several CubeSats, enabling opportunities for small spacecraft like NEA Scout to reach the Moon and beyond as part of the Artemis program.

The CubeSat will use stainless steel alloy booms to deploy an aluminum-coated plastic film sail. Energetic particles of sunlight, called photons, bounce off the solar sail to give it a gentle yet constant push. Over time, this constant thrust can accelerate the spacecraft to very high speeds, allowing it to navigate through space and catch up to its target asteroid.

NEA Scout is also a stepping-stone to another recently selected NASA solar sail mission, Solar Cruiser, which will use a sail 16 times larger when it flies in 2025.