NEO precursor studies

Hidalgo impacts with the asteroid

Thanks to the quality of ESA studies, Europe has gained a very good understanding of the mission options for NEO risk assessment.

But, while obtaining information on a NEO (or even on a number of them) can improve our knowledge on that specific object (or on the NEO population), because of the wide variety of object types, it would not reduce or remove significant uncertainties on our ability to prevent a collision for a given impactor. In particular the ability to change the orbit of an object (deflection) has not yet been demonstrated, and a vital link in the chain from threat identification to threat mitigation is therefore missing.

The general public would like to know that this capability is available, or to know what needs to be done in order to attain this goal. Cost effective ways to carry out experiments to demonstrate these techniques while obtaining information on the physical properties of the body (and therefore being able to understand the results of the experiments) is thus an important objective.

Such a “NEO precursor mission” would prepare and pave the way to an effective “NEO deflection mission”, as opposed to rehearsing a pure fully-fledged deflection mission that would face large uncertainties, present high technology risks and costs.

The development of precursor experiments and missions would also provide an excellent opportunity for international cooperation, from which all partners would benefit in terms of mission return, technology development and public relations.

GSP precursor studies

In July 2002, the General Studies Programme of the European Space Agency provided funding for preliminary studies of six space missions that could make significant contributions to our knowledge of NEOs (Near-Earth Objects):

  • EUNEOS (European NEO Survey) - a space telescope in an inner solar orbit for NEO discovery

  • EARTHGUARD-I - a small space telescope for NEO discovery, especially the Atens and “Inner-Earth Objects” (IEOs) that are difficult or impossible to detect from the ground

  • NERO (NEO Remote Observations) - an optical/infrared space telescope for NEO discovery and physical characterisation

  • SIMONE (Smallsat Intercept Missions to Objects Near Earth) - a fleet of low-cost microsatellites for multiple NEO rendezvous and in-situ remote sensing

  • ISHTAR (Internal Structure High-resolution Tomography by Asteroid Rendezvous) - utilises radar tomography for in-situ study of internal structure

  • DON QUIJOTE - utilises explosive charges, an impactor, seismic detectors and accelerometers for in-situ study of internal structure and momentum transfer

Last update: 11 May 2012

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