Launched on February 17, 1996, the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) mission is to be the first of NASA's Discovery missions, a series of small-scale spacecraft designed to proceed from development to flight in under three years for a cost of less than $150 million. The spacecraft will be equipped with an X-ray/gamma ray spectrometer, a near infrared imaging spectrograph, a multispectral camera fitted with a CCD imaging detector, a laser altimeter, and a magnetometer. A radio science experiment will also be performed using the NEAR tracking system to estimate the gravity field of the asteroid.
The ultimate goal of the mission is to rendezvous with and achieve orbit around the near Earth asteroid 433 Eros in February, 1999, and study the asteroid for approximately one year. Eros is an S-class asteroid about 14 x 14 x 40 kilometers in size. Studies will be made of the asteroid's size, shape, mass, magnetic field, composition, and surface and internal structure. Periapsis of the orbit will be as low as 24 kilometers above the surface of the asteroid.
NEAR took photographs of Comet Hyakutake in March 1996. The spacecraft will fly within 1200 kilometers of the C-class asteroid 253 Mathilde on 27 June 1997. It will then fly by the Earth on 22 January 1998. The spacecraft has the shape of an octagonal prism, approximately 1.7 meters on a side, with four solar panels and a fixed 1.5 meter X-band high-gain radio antenna.