Spaceflight Now: Breaking News

NEAR nudges closer to asteroid Eros in maneuver
Posted: March 4, 2000

  First orbit image
The first image of Eros taken after NEAR entered orbit on February 14. Photo: JHU/APL
The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous spacecraft successfully completed a 22-second engine burn Friday to put NEAR into a near-circular orbit around asteroid Eros. The spacecraft is now operating approximately 124 miles (200 kilometers) from the center of the asteroid and will stay in that orbit until April 1.

The 1 p.m. EST (1800 GMT) maneuver into the new orbit gives the spacecraft its best scientific look at the asteroid so far. Over the next four weeks, NEAR will collect images and data for a detailed global surface map, a topographic model and a more precise estimate of gravity on Eros.

NEAR's Multispectral Imager will snap enough photos to create color and monochrome maps of Eros' surface. By measuring the distance between NEAR and Eros, the Laser Rangefinder will begin to shape three-dimensional perspectives of the craters, ridges and various other features in the images. The craft's radio science equipment will use the closer orbit to get a better reading of the asteroid's gravity field.

With a little help from the sun, the satellite could also get its first readings of the asteroid's elements. The X-Ray Spectrometer detects fluorescence from elements that react to solar x-rays. "A lot depends on solar activity," says Ralph McNutt, X-Ray/Gamma Ray Spectrometer instrument scientist. "If there is a strong solar x-ray event, the instrument will get a good measurement."

Moving three miles an hour relative to Eros, NEAR will circle the rotating space rock three full times during this orbit. NEAR operates at this range until April 1, when another short engine burn will gradually move it into a 60-mile (100-kilometer) orbit. The asteroid and spacecraft are about 152 million miles (almost 245 million kilometers) from Earth.

The NEAR team will analyze and present its findings from the orbit over the next several months, including a potential first look at the data during a March 13 press briefing at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston.

Other coverage
Asteroid surface - NEAR shows Eros' sculptured surface with grooves.
Eros color - Eros asteroid has a subtle butterscotch color.
Eros' hemispheres - Mosaics show stark beauty of Eros' two opposite hemispheres.

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