Status Report

NEO News (08/09/13) Planetary Defense Conference Postings

By SpaceRef Editor
August 9, 2013
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NEO News (08/09/13) Planetary Defense Conference Postings

Papers and policy recommendations from the 2013 Planetary Defense Conference in Flagstaff are now available on-line. Also Personnel news for Don Yeomans, Lori Garver, and Mike Wargo.

Personnel News: 

Donald K. Yeomans (Director of the NASA NEO Program Office at JPL) has received the 2013 Carl Sagan Medal of the AAS Division for Planetary Science. The Medal honors Don’s many contributions to helping the public understand science in general and the NEO impact hazard in particular. His most recent book for the public is Near-Earth Objects: Finding Them Before They Find Us.

Lori Garver (Deputy Administrator of NASA) is resigning from NASA to become executive director of the Airline Pilot’s Association. Lori has been a strong supporter of asteroid science and potential targets for human exploration ever since she attended one of the first meetings on NEO defense, held at Erice in 1992.

Michael Wargo (Lead Scientist for Lunar and Asteroid studies in the NASA Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate) died suddenly on August 4. Mike was a strong advocate for both lunar and asteroid science within the Exploration Directorate at NASA HQ, focusing recently on the identification of strategic gaps our knowledge of NEOs as potential targets for human visits.

Planetary Defense Conference 2013 AIAA White Paper from the PDC is available at

Here is the web link for Conference papers, posters and presentations.

Summary and Recommendations

Over 200 experts from around the world participated in the 2013 IAA Planetary Defense Conference; a meeting that concluded with a tabletop exercise exposed participants to a realistic asteroid warning and impact scenario and asked that they develop responses to the threat from multiple perspectives. Recommendations arising from this experience are below.

Discovery: Discovery remains the most critical aspect of planetary defense. We have discovered only a small percentage of the objects that could destroy a city or cause severe regional destruction, and such an object could enter our atmosphere today with little or no warning. Necessary tools that include space-based survey systems such as that proposed by the B612 Foundation, enhanced ground-based systems such as Pan-STARRS, and upgrades to radars that will improve precise tracking and measurements of an object’s size, rotation, and other factors that inform the design and execution of deflection efforts. UN efforts to formalize cooperative interactions among nations to improve observation and discovery capability should be supported.

Characterization: Research is increasing our understanding of the types of structures and materials that might be encountered by deflection/disruption missions and the responses to kinetic impact and other deflection/disruption efforts. This work will increase confidence in the success of deflection/disruption missions and potentially limit the number of launches required to achieve the desired result.

Verification of our ability to move an asteroid: Missions are being proposed that would use kinetic impactors to move an asteroid, and the impact and motion away from the original path would be verified by observer spacecraft. Designing these missions and developing the necessary tools and payloads for these types of actions would verify model predictions and build confidence in our abilities to deal with an actual threat.

Disaster mitigation: Tabletop exercises for limited audiences are demonstrating the effectiveness of these exercises in making people aware of the unique aspects of asteroid threats and where work needs to be done. Exercises involving disaster response agencies at the local, state, national and international level would help these agencies be prepared for disasters that might be caused by asteroid impacts.

Being Prepared: Atmospheric entries of NEOs of sufficient size to cause serious damage are rare on human time scales, but the need for an active deflection/disruption response could occur at any time. The challenge is to develop response plans and to put cost effective procedures in place to preserve technologies and capabilities necessary for a response. For example, algorithms that can guide a spacecraft moving at 10s of km/sec relative to an approaching asteroid must be made available and tested prior to when they are needed, as must the thruster and other hardware necessary to execute the algorithms’ commands. Procedures should be developed that will maintain a catalog of necessary equipment and tools and assure that these capabilities are tested and verified as part of other missions. Similarly, current procedures for launching spacecraft should be examined to see what can be done to make it possible to reprogram an existing launch vehicle and mount and launch a new payload quickly. Potentially, a low level build-up of an effective planetary defense capability over time could be done with modest sustained annual investment. Public education and outreach programs also contribute to readiness and preparedness for NEO threats.

International efforts: Planetary defense is an international responsibility and current efforts at the United Nations to provide opportunities for space agencies to begin to plan for shared responsibilities and coordinated actions should be supported. Bi-lateral and multi-lateral agreements will also be necessary as part of the overall coordination of resources and capability.

Communications: The Planetary Defense Conference exercise and the exercise recently conducted by NASA and FEMA helped solidify the importance of developing and moving forward on an overall coordination and communication plan for planetary defense related topics. Information on the nature of a NEO threat, possible deflection/disruption options, the evolution of a threat scenario, risk and uncertainty, and credible tools for simple deflection mission design should be added to currently available authoritative web pages.

NEO News is an informal compilation of news and opinion dealing with Near Earth Objects (NEOs) and their impacts. These opinions are the responsibility of the individual authors and do not represent the positions of NASA, Ames Research Center, the International Astronomical Union, or any other organization. For additional information, please see the website If anyone wishes to copy or redistribute original material from these notes, fully or in part, please include this disclaimer.

SpaceRef staff editor.