NASA halts Near Earth Asteroid Detection Mission Study

NASA’s Near-Earth Object Surveillance Mission (NEOSM) is a space-based infrared telescope. It is designed to study the solar system and identify potentially destructive asteroids. This mission is expected to help avoid the hazardous impact such asteroids can have on our planet. This mission was proposed in the year 2006. The US congress directed NASA to carry out this mission to survey objects inside the earth’s orbit. In 2019, the Planetary Defense Coordination Office was mandated to carry out this mission as part of NASA.

Early 2020, NASA confirmed that soon they were going to launch this mission. This mission was a review known as the Key Decision Point B of the near-earth Object (NEO) surveyor spacecraft. If this review were completed, it would allow the mission to proceed to Phase B. This would give the go-ahead for preliminary design work and setting up key technologies needed for this phase. However, reports from NASA state that this review was postponed until the spring of 2021. The defense program division, which runs such missions, confirmed this. Budgetary uncertainty led to this decision. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the impact on the budgetary requirements needed to be examined.

The fact that the US government is transitioning was another determinant leading to the delay. NASA projects that before power is transferred from the outgoing President, Donald Trump, to the incoming Joe Biden, it will take some time. This means that pending budget estimates will be revised and approved late in spring 2021. Postponing this mission took planetary science enthusiasts by surprise. Just a week before the delay, agency officials had confirmed that there would be a mission review. This was scheduled for early December 2020. If this review succeeded, it would enable the NEOSM to proceed to Phase B. Lori Glaze; Planetary Science Division Director, stated that they were moving forward with the implementation into Phase B despite the budgetary challenges.

The NEOSM spacecraft is designed to meet defense goals and not so purely scientific ones. Unlike NeOCam, the Discovery Program, the goal is to protect the earth from destruction by asteroids. Together with the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, this mission seeks to identify the hazardous objects and redirect them. These two missions were estimated to require $150 million. The work on NEO Surveyor has been running smoothly. The requirements review and the mission design review got high marks in a technical examination from a standing review board. This is according to NASA’s head of Planetary Defense Coordination Office, Lindley Johnson.

By 2020, NASA was required to have discovered about 25000 asteroids. The astronomers have only achieved 38% of this value. To strive towards meeting this goal, the agency has enhanced surveillance mission capability like that of NEOSM. This will, however, require several decades to achieve.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *