NEAR craft changes course for upcoming asteroid rendezvous
Artist's conception of NEAR at Eros
LAUREL, Maryland (CNN) -- The first spacecraft expected to
orbit an asteroid performed a key breaking and trajectory
change maneuver Thursday, mission operators said. The Near
Earth Asteroid Rendezvous vehicle is now only about 5,000
miles (8,000 km) away from Eros, which it should reach as
planned on February 14.
NEAR's thrusters fired at noon EST for 90 seconds and eased
the spacecraft from 43 mph to 18 mph relative to Eros. The
maneuver moved NEAR's trajectory about 60 miles (100 km)
closer to its target.
The operation was a modified version of the rendezvous burn
scheduled for February 2, which was canceled after NEAR went
into "safe" hold early Wednesday morning.
"We were able to come back right away and devise a turnaround
burn," said NEAR Mission Director Bob Farquhar. "It really
shows the resiliency of the mission plans."
Another burn on February 8 will bump NEAR's approach speed to
22 mph and put it back on its original track to the asteroid.
A flyby planned for February 13 remains on schedule. It will
put NEAR directly between the sun and Eros, affording a
unique opportunity to map the asteroid's minerals under
Data from NEAR could help answer questions about the origin
and composition of asteroids, comets and the solar system,
according to the mission managers at the Applied Physics
Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.
The spacecraft has measured Eros at 21 miles long by 8 miles
wide and 8 miles deep. Comprised of silicate rock, the
asteroid rolls through its eccentric orbit like a tumbling
NEAR was launched in February 1996 as a joint project between
NASA and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.
Eros was named by German astronomer Gustav Witt, who
discovered the asteroid in 1898.
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Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous Mission
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