Discovering, characterizing, and tracking potentially hazardous NEOs as early as possible is crucial in ensuring that deflection or other preparations for impact mitigation can be carried out in time. NASA will test one deflection technology – the kinetic impactor – with its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, to be launched later this year. While there are no known impact threats to Earth for the next century, unpredicted impacts by unknown NEOs – such as the 2013 Chelyabinsk event in Russia – still pose a hazard to Earth. Using sensors that operate in the infrared, NEO Surveyor would help planetary scientists discover NEOs more quickly, including ones that could approach Earth during the day from closer to the direction of the Sun – something that is not currently possible using ground-based optical observatories. “By searching for NEOs closer to the direction of the Sun, NEO Surveyor would help astronomers discover impact hazards that could approach Earth from the daytime sky,” said Amy Mainzer, principal investigator for NEO Surveyor at the University of Arizona. “NEO Surveyor would also significantly enhance NASA’s ability to determine the specific sizes and characteristics of newly discovered NEOs by using infrared light, complementing ongoing observations being conducted by ground-based observatories and radar.”
NEO Surveyor’s approval to move to this next mission milestone brings the telescope one step closer to launch, which is currently scheduled for the first half of 2026. The mission is being developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California and managed by NASA’s Planetary Missions Program Office at Marshall Space Flight Center, with program oversight by the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO). NASA established the PDCO in 2016 to manage the agency’s ongoing efforts in Planetary Defense.
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