Rendezvous with an asteroid

Perhaps 20 years later, driving a 30-mile-long asteroid around the Sun at 24 kilometers per second. An octagonal prism nearly three meters high with a solar mill and a meter and a half antenna. 21 years ago-February 14, 2000-the NEAR Shoemaker entered orbit of the asteroid Eros and became the asteroid’s first artificial satellite.

The Shoemaker spacecraft was designed for the Asteroid Encounter at Earth – Asteroid Convergence at Earth. The device was aimed at the asteroid Eros, the first discovered asteroid approaching Earth and the largest of the closest to Earth. The device was sent to Eros to find out if the asteroid was part of a larger body or not, its physical and geological properties, to get information about the differences between asteroids, comets and meteorites.

The probe carried five research instruments: a magnetometer to measure the magnetic field of Eros, a laser range finder to refine the area, an electron camera and two spectrometers: an X-ray spectrometer and a laser to study the chemical composition. rock of the asteroid.

The spacecraft was sent to the аsteroid on February 17, 1996. The satellite was controlled from the ground: the troops reached it only 17 minutes later and returned to the Control Center 34 minutes later. After 16 months of flight, the device reached its intermediate destination, the аsteroid Matilda: images of the аsteroid could be obtained by measuring the magnetic field and mass of Matilda. Then, in a complex orbit, the satellite passed over the Earth and headed for its final destination, the asteroid Eros.

Rendezvous with an asteroid
Rendezvous with an asteroid

Shoemaker first addressed Eros in December 1998. Astronomers originally planned to put the spacecraft into astroid orbit in January 1999. Due to a system failure, they lost contact with the probe for more than 24 hours, lost time and were forced to develop a new flight plan, according to which the satellite entered a heliocentric orbit that coincided with the orbit of Eros and approached the asteroid within a year. On February 14, the NEAR shoemaker became the first artificial satellite of the аsteroid.By February 2001, the satellite gradually decreased its orbit, approached the asteroid, and sent research data. During its time on the track, the device transmitted more than 160,000 images and performed more than 11 million laser pulses to accurately measure the surface shape.

“NEAR Shememaker” had exhausted its strength and was thrown into space, but then came the idea to deliver it to the asteroid, although scientists feared that the weak gravitational force would not keep the probe afloat. The probe resisted: NEAR was not designed to land, but it remained operational after touching the surface. After landing, the solar cells were illuminated by the sun, which added energy to the gamma-ray spectrometer, and the instrument was able to determine the soil composition of Eros at a depth of 10 centimeters with high accuracy.

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