This area will cover relevant news of the threat to the planet from Near Earth Objects (NEOs) including concepts and designs for mitigation. All opinions are those of the author.

07 May 2010

April 2010 Presentation from NASA Small Bodies Assessment Group

Here is some of what was presented by Mark V. Sykes, Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG) Chair, Planetary Science Institute, Report to Planetary Science Subcommittee (PSS) on 08 April 2010. One of the issues brought up is the uncertainty of NASA Discovery-class planetary science mission Announcements of Opportunity (AO). This may be alleviated a little by some of the more regular robotic precursors and technology demonstration missions proposed in the new NASA plan (FY2011 budget), even though those may be at a smaller overall life cycle cost (LCC) than typical Discovery class missions.

A summary of the main elements in the presentation follows...

Activities Since December 2009 PSS
• SBAG 3 scheduled for August 3-4, 2010 in Pasadena CA
• SBAG 4 scheduled for January 25-26, 2011 in Washington DC
• Organizing second International Primitive Body Exploration Working Group Meeting for mid-2011
• Ongoing efforts focusing on generating a Roadmap for Small Bodies Exploration document

Top Three Issues for PSS from SBAG

1) Unpredictability and uncertainties in the Discovery program undermine its critical value as the workhorse for solar system missions and discourages proposers.

Programmatic considerations do not seem to adequately include the fact that mission plans are built around specific targets that move. The instability in AO deadlines and corresponding launch windows seriously undermine and threaten significant investments in time and and money by scientists, industry partners, and centers. There should be regular, predictable AO calls that allow proposers sufficient time to respond to these mission opportunities.

2. Plans for the allocation of $20M to the NEOO program should be openly discussed and peer-reviewed, and the purpose for NEO characterization needs to be expanded beyond that required purely for hazard mitigation.

NEO discovery and characterization are needed for baseline support of science missions (as direct and flyby targets), as well as their expanding value to human space activity (ISRU and potential destination). Characterization should be systematic and cost-effective. Investments should be contemplated for ground based observations from a variety of aperture facilities (not just large) to determine composition, physical properties, and orbital state.

3.) Maintaining our capabilities for the radar characterization of NEOs.

Radar provides unique opportunities, short of a mission, to determine NEO shape, rotation state, surface density, and orbit refinement. As long as support for the continuation of this capability is unstable, the status and funding for the facilities necessary for this work (Arecibo and Goldstone) need to be monitored to ensure capabilities are being preserved.

Link: PDF (08 April 2010)

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