Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous 

The NEAR Shoemaker mission was part of NASA's low-cost Discovery program with the primary goal to rendezvous with, and study, minor planet 433 Eros (an S-class asteroid) in the main Asteroid belt. In early 2000, NEAR Shoemaker became the first man-made object to orbit an asteroid and soon after made a soft-landing on its surface!

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NEAR Shoemaker Fast Summary Facts1

  • Type:  Flyby & Orbiter
  • Destination:  Asteroid 253 Mathilda & 433 Eros
  • Status:  Decommissioned
  • Launch Location:  Cape Canaveral, Florida
  • Launch Date:  February 17th 1996
  • 433 Eros Orbital Insertion:  February 14th 2000
  • Landing Date:  February 12th 2001
  • Mission Duration:  5 Years

Read All The Facts About The NEAR Shoemaker Mission!

  • The acronym ‘NEAR’ stands for Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous, with the ‘Shoemaker’ name given to the spacecraft to honour the planetary scientist Eugene Shoemaker.
  • The asteroid 433 Eros was selected as the target to learn more about the third largest near-Earth object (13 km x 13 km x 33 km) by sending back data on the S-type asteroids bulk properties, composition, mineralogy, morphology, internal mass distribution and magnetic field!
  • The spacecraft has a unique look to it, as it is the shape of an octagonal prism. Its antenna is surrounded by four solar panels, which are attached in a windmill-type arrangement!
  • Electrical power for the spacecraft was provided by solar panels which produced 400 watts when at 2.2 AU from the Sun and 1800 W at 1.0 AU (while near Earth).
  • 16 months into NEAR Shoemakers cruise, the spacecraft made a flyby of the 61 km diameter asteroid 253 Mathilde, taking over 500 photographs!
  • After an Earth gravity assist manoeuvre (flyby), the NEAR Shoemaker mission profile had to be revised after a failed engine burn a month before the Eros rendezvous. NEAR would need to instead flyby Eros, orbit the Sun again and finally entered orbit; roughly a year later than intended!
  • When NEAR Shoemaker entered orbit around Eros, it became the first man-made object to orbit an asteroid.
  • The spacecraft completed 230 orbits of Eros, taking 160,000 images, spotting more than 100,000 craters and 1 million house-sized boulders!
  • After 12 months in orbit, mission control instructed the spacecraft to descend to the surface at 6 kph (3.7 mph) – basically walking speed! NEAR was undamaged after touchdown; thus becoming the first spacecraft to land on an asteroid!
  • Final contact with NEAR was made on March 1st 2001, after 10 x more data than planned being collected; completing the most detailed scientific investigation of a small celestial body and greatly improving our understanding of the early Solar System!
  • The cost of the mission was approximately USD $224 million including the Delta II rocket launch. Amazingly, this is considered a relatively cheap space probe mission!
 
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NEAR Packed and Ready - The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft is ready and packed inside its Delta II rocket fairing. (Image Credit: NASA)
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