Comprehensive NEO Survey Needed

Comprehensive NEO Survey Needed

NASA should make a comprehensive survey of Near Earth Objects (NEOs) a priority according to a report from the “Target NEO” workshop held last February.

The workshop was held on February 22, 2011 at George Washington University (GWU) under the sponsorship of GWU’s Space Policy Institute and Ball Aerospace. The stated purpose was to look at what is involved in meeting President Obama’s goal of sending humans to an asteroid in 2025 as the next step in human space exploration. One of the challenges is knowing what asteroids will be in the right position as the target for a human mission in that time frame.

A summary of the workshop was recently released. The bottom line is that scientists know of very few worthy candidates proably because they are limited to seeing only a small portion of the sky and thus a small portion of the total asteroid population. What is needed, they argue, is a space-based telescope located perhaps at a Lagrange point or in a Venus-like orbit that can see the entire sky and discover additional NEO targets.

“The paucity of viable candidate destination NEOs can be attributed to the fact that NEO observing assets are currently confined to Earth’s vicinity,” according to the report. A number of concepts already exist on how to accomplish a space-based NEO survey, and the first necessary step is “intercomparisons of capabilities and costs using a common set of assumptions….” Discovery of more NEOs would be followed by other steps, but the report concludes that ground- and space-based assets could “greatly reduce unknowns about the NEO population within 10 years.”

Sending humans to an asteroid requires overcoming many other challenges, which also were discussed at the workshop. International coordination is an important element in moving forward, the report asserts.

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