NASA will send its small spacecraft with solar sail propulsion to space as part of the Artemis I human exploration mission, which will mark the first integrated flight of the agency's Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft.
Les Johnson, principal technology investigator for the Artemis I mission at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, said in a statement published Wednesday the flight of the Near-Earth Asteroid Scout payload is partly meant to demonstrate the use of solar sailing spacecraft to reach new places and conduct science experiments.
The cubesat's aluminum-coated plastic film sail is designed to reflect sunlight and generate thrust to enable the spacecraft to accelerate and navigate through space for asteroid data-gathering efforts.
"This type of propulsion is especially useful for small, lightweight spacecraft that cannot carry large amounts of conventional rocket propellant," added Johnson.
Commenting on the cubesat mission, Dr. Jim Stott, NEA Scout technology project manager, said understanding properties of small asteroids could inform development strategies for diminishing the potential damage caused in the event of an impact to Earth.