NEOShield-1: Preparing to Protect the Planet

Science Technology for Asteroid Impact preventionCollisions of asteroids and comets with the Earth have taken place frequently over geological history and have altered the evolutionary course of life, there is no reason why they should not continue to hit the Earth at irregular and unpredictable intervals in the future.

Thousands of near-Earth objects (NEOs), mainly asteroids, have been discovered over the past 20 years and the reality of the impact hazard has been laid bare.

The NEOShield Project has been set up to carry out a detailed analysis of the open questions relating to realistic options for preventing the collision of a NEO with the Earth. The aim of the project was to provide solutions to the critical scientific and technical issues that currently stand in the way of demonstrating the feasibility of the promising mitigation options with a test mission. While a mitigation test mission clearly was beyond the financial scope of the project, the NEOShield team aimed to provide detailed test-mission designs for the most feasible mitigation concepts, so that it will be possible to quickly develop an actual test mission at a later stage.

The project concept included laboratory experiments and associated modelling of the behaviour of a NEO during a deflection attempt. These experimental results and modelling helped to improve our understanding of the nature of NEOs and further allowed accurate assessments of the feasibility of mitigation techniques and mission designs.

As well as the European team, the project included partners from established space-faring nations outside the European Union to allow the team to formulate a global response campaign roadmap that may be implemented when a serious impact threat arises. The roadmap would consider the necessary international decision-making milestones, required reconnaissance observations, both from the ground and from rendezvous spacecraft, practical prerequisites, such as precise orbit tracking, and a campaign of perhaps several deflection mission, depending on circumstances.

The NEOShield Project has been supported by the European Commission’ Seventh Framework Programme which provides co-financing for the three and a half year project.

Prof. Dr. Alan Harris, German Aerospace Center (DLR),Coordinator of the NEOShield Project and Dr. Frank, Fraunhofer Institute for High-Speed Dynamics, Ernst-Mach-Institut (EMI) illustrate their activities in supporting the NEOShield Project.