Status Report

NEAR Spacecraft readies for record low pass over asteroid

By SpaceRef Editor
October 13, 2000
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Contact: Michael Buckley,


Johns Hopkins University

Today the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) mission successfully executed the first of three orbital correction maneuvers that will bring the spacecraft unprecedentedly close to asteroid Eros later this month.

A two-minute engine burn just before 2 a.m. (Eastern Daylight Time) on Oct. 13 nudged the spacecraft from a 62-mile (100-kilometer) orbit — where it had been gathering global images and other data for the past five weeks — toward a tighter orbit 31 miles (50 kilometers) from Eros.

“This maneuver was only the beginning,” says Dr. Robert Farquhar, NEAR mission director. “In less than two weeks, we’ll bring NEAR Shoemaker closer than any spacecraft has ever been to an asteroid.”

An engine burn Oct. 20 will circularize the 31-mile orbit, before a maneuver Oct. 25 starts NEAR Shoemaker on a gradual pass to within 4 miles (between 5 to 6 kilometers) of the asteroid’s surface. That’s closer than commercial airliners cruise over land — and a spot from which the NEAR team figures to gather some breathtaking data.

“We’ll get our highest-resolution images so far,” says Dr. Andrew Cheng, NEAR project scientist. “I really hope to get a look at the structure of the rocks and learn a lot more about the small-scale grooves and ridges — though we’ll be so close I think the team is excited about any images the spacecraft takes.”

Several hours after the closest approach — which actually happens at around 3 a.m. (EDT) on Oct. 26 — another maneuver will lift NEAR Shoemaker toward a 125-mile (200-kilometer) orbit.

NEAR is a NASA Discovery Program mission managed by The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md. Its 1-year study of asteroid Eros is expected to be completed in February 2001.


The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
Office of Communications and Public Affairs
Laurel, Md. 20723
Media Contacts:
Michael Buckley

Helen Worth

October 13, 2000

SpaceRef staff editor.