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.

31 August 2011

Target NEO Workshop Final Report

A recent article on the final report from the Target: NEO workshop.

Selections from the article...

Developing the capability to launch human missions to asteroids would aid humanity's ability to foil a potentially devastating asteroid strike and help spur our march to Mars, a new report finds.

What's most needed to make manned asteroid missions possible, the report further concludes, is a comprehensive survey of the Near Earth Object (NEO) population, which would greatly aid planning efforts.

The new report, entitled "Target NEO: Open Global Community NEO Workshop," is anchored in views expressed by experts who gathered at George Washington University (GWU) in Washington in February. But this latest appraisal includes extensive peer review and refined findings from a number of follow-up meetings, both in the United States and abroad.

The key question posed by the GWU workshop: What information about NEOs is still needed to support a robust, sustainable human exploration program?

While this question prompted a variety of recommendations, a primary conclusion by the participants is the need for a space-based survey telescope to greatly expand the catalog of accessible asteroid targets for human exploration.

The space rock menace

There is a growing list of stakeholders supportive of NEO exploration, said Paul Abell, lead scientist for planetary small bodies at the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Directorate of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

"This report is timely," Abell told

Small bodies have become a magnet for multiple interest groups in the U.S. and abroad, Abell said, be they space scientists, astrobiologists, planetary defense planners or NEO specialists who eye the rocky worlds as resource nodes.

For example, NASA recently selected an asteroid sample return mission called Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-Rex. OSIRIS-Rex will be the first U.S. mission to carry samples from an asteroid back to Earth.

Japanese space officials are moving forward on their Hayabusa 2 asteroid explorer. Russia is readying its Phobos-Grunt spacecraft to explore a moon of Mars, and Canada is pressing forward on its dual-purpose microsatellite, NEOSSAT.

Then there’s the new, surprising data flooding in from NASA’s Dawn probe that’s taking a long look at Vesta, the second-largest object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

"It shows you that, every time we go places, we’re always surprised and there’s so much to learn," Abell said. "That’s the fun part of science and exploration."

The "Target NEO" report points out that programs and planned missions to asteroids may be leveraged for mutual benefit in terms of data exchange. It also recommends coordination with the European Space Agency and other space agencies on a planetary defense demonstration mission.

Stepping stones to Mars

As for dispatching astronauts to asteroids, the report envisions that a target NEO will need to be discovered several years in advance to provide enough lead time to deliver robotic precursor missions, plan the human mission and deliver the crew to the chosen destination.

Abell also said that piloted flight to a NEO would hone techniques that could enable an exploration mission to the Red Planet.

"They provide good stepping stones out to Mars," Abell said.

Operating at an asteroid or Mars would be completely different than working at the moon, on the space shuttle or aboard the International Space Station.

Both asteroids and Mars, for example, would have much greater lags in communication times. So deep space missions would require the sharpening of true autonomy acumen, as well as a great deal of confidence in redundant hardware, deep space propulsion, life support gear and radiation shielding.

Link: article

Link: Target: NEO workshop final report (PDF)
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