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NEOShield-2: Science and Technology for Near-Earth Object Impact Prevention

Can we protect our civilization from the next major impact?

The NEOShield-2 Project officially started on March 1st, 2015, continuing on from the NEOShield-1 project.

As many scientific researches highlight, impacts of near-Earth objects (NEOs) have contributed to mass extinctions and evolution. Moreover it is a proven fact that NEOs will continue to hit the Earth at irregular intervals in the future, with the potential for catastrophic damage to life and property.

As a result of the European Commissions call to “Access technologies and characterisation for Near Earth Objects (NEOs)” the NEOShield-2 project was formed under the lead of Airbus Defence and Space in Friedrichshafen, Germany as project coordinator. In total the NEOShield-2 Team is formed by 11 European partners. With the experience and results gained from the former NEOShield project, the NEOShield-2 consortium now is very well equipped to address all aspects of this call, including the development of a European strategy for future research and mission-related endeavours.

Certain areas in which further scientific research and technical development work is necessary have been identified in order to reduce the risk of a NEO deflection attempt failing, and to facilitate more accurate predictions of the consequences of an impact on the Earth. The NEOShield-2 project particularly emphasises on two aspects.

  • The first one is the focus on technological development on essential techniques and instruments needed for guidance, navigation and control (GNC) in close vicinity of asteroids and comets. This will, for example, allow hitting such bodies with a high-velocity kinetic impactor spacecraft and observing them before, during and after a mitigation attempt, e.g., for orbit determination and monitoring.
  • The second one focuses on refining Near Earth Object (NEO) characterisation. Moreover NEOShield-2 will carry out astronomical observations of NEOs, to improve our understanding of their physical properties, concentrating on the smaller sizes of most concern for mitigation purposes, and to identify further objects suitable for missions for physical characterisation and NEO deflection demonstration.

On the scientific front, the statistical analyses of recently published NEO survey data, performed within NEOShield already, have been very successful: Now NEOShield-2 will explore the promising avenues that have opened up during the previous NEOShield research.

Furthermore NEOShield-2 will also perform detailed analyses of relevant individual objects (e.g. potentially hazardous objects) on the basis of published data from different observing techniques (radar, infrared, spectroscopy, etc.), in addition to new data obtained. Modelling work and computer simulations will be enhanced to explore the effects of large spin rates, shattered and rubble-pile structures, and mineralogy on an object’s response to a deflection attempt.

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Activities quick summary

In more detail, the primary aims of NEOShield-2 are to further develop and maturate the necessary technologies for deflection space missions and to perform a comprehensive research and characterization of the 50-300m diameter NEO population, to acquire information on the internal structure and other related physical properties:

  • Further advance the development of an improved autonomous guidance, navigation and control (GNC) system to allow accurate targeting of a high-velocity impactor spacecraft into a small NEO (“kinetic impactor” deflection technique) and demonstrate its function as well as its performance.
  • Further advance the development of an autonomous spacecraft control system to facilitate navigation close to the surface of a low-gravity, irregularly shaped asteroid (important for the “gravity-tractor” deflection technique and proximity operations of a reconnaissance spacecraft) and demonstrate its function as well as its performance.
  • Develop an autonomous spacecraft control system to allow descent to the surface of a NEO, sample collection and re-ascent (important for a sample-return mission) and demonstrate its function as well as its performance.
  • Develop and validate a concept for fast and precise NEO orbit determination and monitoring.
  • Develop and demonstrate mechanisms to interact with the NEO surface and enable collection of material samples.
  • Perform survey of existing and currently developed instruments suitable for NEO in-situ analysis and identify needs for further development.
  • Carry out astronomical observations of NEOs to improve our understanding of their physical properties, concentrating on the smaller sizes of most concern for mitigation purposes (diameter < 300 m), and to identify further objects that might be suitable targets for future rendezvous missions for physical characterisation, and/or deflection demonstration missions.
  • Our work in the current NEOShield-1 project is revealing the value of statistical analyses of the large amount of survey data that has recently been published, which we aim to develop and extend. We also aim to perform detailed analyses of relevant individual objects (e.g. potentially hazardous objects (PHOs)) on the basis of published data from different observing techniques (radar, infrared, optical observations, spectroscopy, photometry, etc.), in addition to new observational data obtained by us in the framework of the proposed project. Modelling work and computer simulations will accompany the data analysis to improve our understanding of the internal structure of small NEOs and how they would respond to deflection attempts.

Read the concluding Project Executive Summary here.