NEAR Shoemaker

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The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous - Shoemaker (NEAR Shoemaker), renamed after its 1996 launch in honor of planetary scientist Eugene M. Shoemaker, is a robotic space probe designed by NASA to study the near-Earth asteroid Eros from close orbit over a period of a year. The mission succeeded in closing in with the asteroid and orbited several times around it, finally terminating by touching down on the asteroid on 12 February 2001.

The primary scientific objective of NEAR was to return data on the bulk properties, composition, mineralogy, morphology, internal mass distribution and magnetic field of Eros. Secondary objectives include studies of regolith properties, interactions with the solar wind, possible current activity as indicated by dust or gas, and the asteroid spin state. This data will be used to help understand the characteristics of asteroids in general, their relationship to meteorites and comets, and the conditions in the early solar system. To accomplish these goals, the spacecraft was equipped with an X-ray/gamma ray spectrometer, a near-infrared imaging spectrograph, a multi-spectral camera fitted with a CCD imaging detector, a laser rangefinder, and a magnetometer. A radio science experiment was also performed using the NEAR tracking system to estimate the gravity field of the asteroid. The total mass of the instruments was 56 kg, and they required 81 W power.


Mission profile

  • Launch date/time: 1996-02-17 at 20:43:27 UTC
  • On-orbit dry mass: 487 kg
  • Nominal power output: 1800 W


The primary goal of the mission was to study the near Earth asteroid 433 Eros from orbit for approximately one year. Eros is an S-type asteroid approximately 13 × 13 × 33 km in size, the second largest near-Earth asteroid. Initially the orbit was circular with a radius of 200 km. The radius of the orbit was brought down in stages to a 50 × 50 km orbit on 30 April 2000 and decreased to 35 × 35 km on July 14, 2000. The orbit was raised over succeeding months to a 200 × 200 km orbit and then slowly decreased and altered to a 35 × 35 km retrograde orbit on December 13, 2000. The mission ended with a touchdown in the "saddle" region of Eros on February 12, 2001.

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