[meteorite-list] NASA Office to Coordinate Asteroid Detection, Hazard Mitigation

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Fri, 8 Jan 2016 14:20:34 -0800 (PST)
Message-ID: <201601082220.u08MKYUC017280_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


NASA Office to Coordinate Asteroid Detection, Hazard Mitigation
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
January 7, 2016

NASA has formalized its ongoing program for detecting and tracking near-Earth
objects (NEOs) as the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO). The
office remains within NASA's Planetary Science Division, in the agency's
Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The office will be responsible
for supervision of all NASA-funded projects to find and characterize asteroids
and comets that pass near Earth's orbit around the sun. It will also take
a leading role in coordinating interagency and intergovernmental efforts
in response to any potential impact threats.

More than 13,500 near-Earth objects of all sizes have been discovered
to date -- more than 95 percent of them since NASA-funded surveys began
in 1998. About 1,500 NEOs are now detected each year.

"Asteroid detection, tracking and defense of our planet is something that
NASA, its interagency partners, and the global community take very seriously,"
said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission
Directorate in Washington. "While there are no known impact threats at
this time, the 2013 Chelyabinsk super-fireball and the recent 'Halloween
Asteroid' close approach remind us of why we need to remain vigilant and
keep our eyes to the sky."

NASA has been engaged in worldwide planning for planetary defense for
some time, and this office will improve and expand on those efforts, working
with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other federal
agencies and departments.

In addition to detecting and tracking potentially hazardous objects, the
office will issue notices of close passes and warnings of any detected
potential impacts, based on credible science data. The office also will
continue to assist with coordination across the U.S. government, participating
in the planning for response to an actual impact threat, working in conjunction
with FEMA, the Department of Defense, other U.S. agencies and international

"The formal establishment of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office
makes it evident that the agency is committed to perform a leadership
role in national and international efforts for detection of these natural
impact hazards, and to be engaged in planning if there is a need for planetary
defense," said Lindley Johnson, longtime NEO program executive and now
lead program executive for the office, with the title of Planetary Defense

Astronomers detect near-Earth objects using ground-based telescopes around
the world as well as NASA's space-based NEOWISE infrared telescope. Tracking
data are provided to a global database maintained by the Minor Planet
Center, sanctioned by the International Astronomical Union. Once detected,
orbits are precisely predicted and monitored by the Center for NEO Studies
 (CNEOS) at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Select NEOs are further characterized by assets such as NASA's InfraRed
Telescope Facility, Spitzer Space Telescope and interplanetary radars
operated by NASA and the National Science Foundation. Such efforts are
coordinated and funded by NASA's longtime NEO Observations Program, which
will continue as a research program under the office.

The Planetary Defense Coordination Office is being applauded by the National
Science Foundation (NSF), which supports research and education in science
and engineering. "NSF welcomes the increased visibility afforded to this
critical activity," said Nigel Sharp, program director in the agency's
Division of Astronomical Sciences. "We look forward to continuing the
fruitful collaboration across the agencies to bring all of our resources
-- both ground-based and space-based -- to the study of this important

With more than 90 percent of NEOs larger than 3,000 feet (1 kilometer)
already discovered, NASA is now focused on finding objects that are slightly
bigger than a football field -- 450 feet (140 meters) or larger. In 2005,
NASA was tasked with finding 90 percent of this class of NEOs by the end
of 2020. NASA-funded surveys have detected an estimated 25 percent of
these mid-sized but still potentially hazardous objects to date.

NASA's long-term planetary defense goals include developing technology
and techniques for deflecting or redirecting objects that are determined
to be on an impact course with Earth. NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission
concept would demonstrate the effectiveness of the gravity tractor method
of planetary defense, using the mass of another object to pull an asteroid
slightly from its original orbital path. The joint NASA-European Space
Agency Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA) mission concept,
if pursued, would demonstrate an impact deflection method of planetary

Even if intervention is not possible, NASA would provide expert input
to FEMA about impact timing, location and effects to inform emergency
response operations. In turn, FEMA would handle the preparations and response
planning related to the consequences of atmospheric entry or impact to
U.S. communities.

"FEMA is dedicated to protecting against all hazards, and the launch of
the coordination office will ensure early detection and warning capability,
and will further enhance FEMA's collaborative relationship with NASA,"
said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate.

The concept of a central office to coordinate asteroid detection and mitigation
has been under consideration since 2010, when an Ad-Hoc Task Force on
Planetary Defense of the NASA Advisory Council recommended that NASA "organize
for effective action on planetary defense and prepare to respond to impact
threats," and should "lead U.S. planetary defense efforts in national
and international forums." In addition, a NASA Office of Inspector General
2014 report concluded that the NEO Observations Program would be more
"efficient, effective and transparent" if it were organized and managed
in accordance with standard NASA research program requirements.

The NEO Observations Program operated on a budget of $4 million as recently
as fiscal year 2010. That same year, the President announced a new goal
for NASA -- a human mission to an asteroid. The President's fiscal year
2012 budget included, and Congress appropriated, $20.4 million for an
expanded NASA NEO Observations Program. The agency's Asteroid Grand Challenge
to find all asteroid threats also launched in 2012. Funding for the NEO
program doubled to $40 million in 2014, which increased the rate of detection
of new NEOs by 40 percent and jump-started research into potential asteroid
deflection techniques.

In 2015, NASA's NEO Observations Program supported 54 ongoing projects,
including detection and tracking campaigns, asteroid characterization
efforts and radar projects. Nine studies were funded to explore techniques
for impact mitigation.

The recently passed federal budget for fiscal year 2016 includes $50 million
for NEO observations and planetary defense, representing a more than ten-fold
increase since the beginning of the current administration.

For regular updates on passing asteroids, NASA has an asteroid widget
that lists the next five close approaches to Earth; it links to the CNEOS
website with a complete list of recent and upcoming close approaches,
as well as all other data on the orbits of known NEOs, so scientists and
members of the media and public can track information on known objects.

For more information on NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office,


Media Contact

Dwayne Brown / Laurie Cantillo
NASA Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726 / 202-358-1077
dwayne.c.brown at nasa.gov / laura.l.cantillo at nasa.gov

DC Agle
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
agle at jpl.nasa.gov

Received on Fri 08 Jan 2016 05:20:34 PM PST

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