2017.A.4.4. NASA’s Near Earth Asteroid Scout: Not Your Average CubeSat


Tiffany Russell Lockett (1)
Charles Johnson (1)

  1. NASA, United States of America




Solar Sail, 6U, systems engineering, interplanetary, spacecraft, asteroid


The Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) Scout is a low-cost reconnaissance mission to image a NEA approximately 1 AU from Earth. It is scheduled to launch on the maiden voyage of the Space Launch System (SLS) in late 2018. The NEA Scout is one of many secondary payloads on the launch vehicle headed beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) and required to fit within a 6U CubeSat form factor. However, that is where the similarity to a conventional CubeSat ends. NEA Scout is flying beyond LEO and has the ambitious goals of demonstrating solar sail propulsion technology and performing low-cost reconnaissance of an asteroid to which we may one day send humans.

To meet the NEA Scout requirements, the spacecraft design has taken on a traditional interplanetary  spacecraft development approach. This requires communications with the NASA Deep Space Network, the ability to survive the harsh radiation environment of interplanetary space, power generation for 2.5 years, and a robust guidance and control approach to both fly by the target asteroid and simultaneously control the solar sail. All of these features must fit within the 6U CubeSat form factor with a mass constraint of 14kg.

This paper will address how the project team is designing the spacecraft to meet these ambitious mission requirements. The team phrase, “hardest game of Tetris” best summarizes the design approach used.


  • Will be made available for download after the workshop

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