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.

29 January 2012

NEOShield News ($5.3M EU Planetary Defense Study)

From a paper on the NEOShield project...

There is currently no concerted international plan addressing the impact threat and how to organize, prepare and implement mitigation measures. We report on a new international project to address impact hazard mitigation issues, being the subject of a proposal to the European Commission in response to the 2011 FP7 Call “Prevention of impacts from near-Earth objects on our planet”. Our consortium consists of 13 research institutes, universities, and industrial partners and includes leading US and Russian space organizations. The primary aim of the project, NEOShield, is to investigate in detail the three most promising mitigation techniques: the kinetic impactor, blast deflection, and the gravity tractor, and devise feasible demonstration missions. Furthermore, we will investigate options for an international  strategy for implementation when an actual impact threat arises.  

From one of the articles on the NEOShield project...

In response to these worries, the European Commission recently decided to invest €4 million ($5.3 million) in the NEOShield project. An additional €1.8 million will come from scientific institutions and industry partners. Within three years' time, the experts hope to draw up a blueprint for a test mission. If it can find a financial backer, such as the European Space Agency (ESA), the mission could be launched as early as 2020.

In reality, however, a host of ideas have already been proposed for how to deal with an approaching asteroid. For example, there's the "kinetic impactor" idea, which envisions using a massive projectile to knock an asteroid off course. And there's the "gravity tractor" idea, which entails having a small probe hover near the asteroid and use its gravitational traction to deflect it from its Earth-bound course. Some have even proposed an approach to the problem that would involve launching an all-out attack with nuclear missiles.

"Of course, a lot of things have already been proposed," Harris says. "But, so far, most of them have come from a single institution, perhaps even from a single person. So it has been hard to pursue them." The new project aims to systematically investigate all of the mitigation methods that have already been proposed. "That will take place on paper and in lab experiments, since we don't have the money to do more than that," says Wolfram Lork, who handles the involvement of Astrium, a subsidiary of the European aerospace giant EADS, in the project.

Link: Article (Der Spiegel)


Agenda and Findings of 6th Meeting of the NASA Small Bodies Assessment Group Meeting

From January 17-18, 2012 in Washington, DC USA, there was the 6th Meeting of the NASA Small Bodies Assessment Group.

The agenda, selected presentations, and findings are now online.

Here are the findings...


Finding 1. The SBAG is pleased that the PDS Small Bodies Node is developing an interface to search the numerous and diverse data sets related to small bodies. The Data Ferret has a nice interface for returning information about data on individually identified objects. At present, this is limited primarily to asteroid data and needs to include its comet data holdings. The ability to conduct more sophisticated SQLEtype queries is very desired, as is a means of intelligently sifting through large volumes of imaging, spectral and other data accumulated by spacecraft for individual objects (e.g., Eros, Hartley 2, and in the near future Vesta) – perhaps using tools similar to those available for searching data on Mars and the Moon. We request regular updates on these tools at our SBAG meetings.

Finding 2. The B612 initiative to build a largely privately funded NEO survey telescope is potentially exciting. However, before NASA invests any of its limited resources in supporting this venture, there should be an external peer review of the mission design to ensure that it will satisfy NASA needs, which need to be articulated first, and that those needs are cost effectively addressed. If the level of needed investment by PSD is equivalent to a Discovery MoO or Discovery mission, then such support should be sought through open competition from those programs.

Finding 3. Any contribution of instruments or sampling systems by NASA to the ESA Marco Polo mission should be subject to open competition among potential providers.
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