New Space and Tech

On The Need For A of Near-Earth Object Characterization Constellation In Low-Earth Orbit

By Keith Cowing
Status Report
February 5, 2023
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On The Need For A of Near-Earth Object Characterization Constellation In Low-Earth Orbit
Schematic showing the value of combining visible and MIR (thermal) observations of NEOs. With visible light alone, there is a degeneracy between albedo and size. With MIR alone, only the mass is determined but not the albedo. By combining the two, the mass is determined with the MIR and the albedo is determined with the combination. If there is also an estimate of the material properties than the size and thus density may also be determined. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech available here.

In 2005, the United States Congress passed a bill mandating the detection, tracking, cataloguing and characterization of 90% of the 140 meter and larger near-Earth objects (NEOs) by 2020.

At the deadline ∼35% were detected, tracked and catalogued, but only a small fraction were characterized.

At the present rate, it will take 40 years to meet the detection mandate, and there are insufficient global facilities dedicated to NEO characterization to come close to the characterization threshold. The major surveys focus mainly on detection and initial orbit determination, which must be refined in order to fully be tracked and catalogued.

Characterization requires observations spanning multiple wavelengths, cadences, and instruments, so it is challenging for observers to acquire the requisite data in a timely manner for planetary defense.

Two upcoming surveys will easily meet the 90% threshold for detection, but each will require separate facilities to tip and queue to refine orbits and characterize new discoveries, and they will provide too many discoveries for ground and space-based assets to keep up with.

Here, I argue for a constellation of proliferating small satellites carrying visible and infrared sensors that would offer the needed coverage and flexibility to follow up detections from current and upcoming surveys in a timely manner. Such a constellation would enable NASA to move beyond the detection focused investments and fully meet the 2005 Congressional mandate.

Nathan Golovich

Comments: Submitted to Icarus, 27 pages, 13 figures
Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP); Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics (astro-ph.IM)
Report number: LLNL-JRNL-843984
Cite as: arXiv:2301.10348 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:2301.10348v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
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Submission history
From: Nathan Golovich
[v1] Tue, 24 Jan 2023 23:29:19 UTC (5,393 KB)

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