NASA Funds New Space Telescope to Protect from Asteroids

Share

Lots of Asteroid Flybys Lately Underline the Need for Planetary Defense, and a New Space Telescope is Just What the NASA Doctors Ordered.

I reported last month about Apophis, a very big asteroid that will come relatively close in a little over a decade. That story featured Apophis, but most of it focused on an Elon Musk tweet that asserted we have “no defense” against such an asteroid impact. To be fair, Musk was right. We don’t currently have a plan for a rock like Apophis impacting the Earth. Our main plan is early detection and time, as I pointed out before. Well, now NASA wants to beef up the “early detection” part of that plan with a new space telescope.

Early Detection and Time

To go into a bit more detail on this idea, NASA’s philosophy goes like this. In reality, we currently do not have any specific plan to be able to deal with a dangerous asteroid if such a rock were headed directly for us. That said, astronomers are fairly confident that we have at least a century before any known asteroids come close enough to be a threat. A century is a lot of time to come up with a solution. Therefore, by the time any asteroids become a problem, we’ll have already thought of a way to deal with them. That’s the idea, anyway.

Okay, it does sound kind of silly, but also pretty practical. NASA already operates on a shoestring budget given the challenges they face and their mandate. Allocating resources to detection when we are nowhere near a solution toward changing asteroid trajectories is prudent when you don’t have the resources to devote to both. The impractical and scary part of their plan is that word “known.”

After all, the second component of their plan—time—relies upon the assumption that no known asteroids are expected to come close enough to worry about for a century or so. What about the unknown ones?

Enter the New Space Telescope

At a meeting of the Planetary Science Advisory Committee in D.C. yesterday, Associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, said, “The goal is not to do everything for eternity,” he said. “The goal is to do the right things as they pop up.” He continued that the right thing, for now, is to build a more powerful new space telescope to track near-earth objects.

JPL will head up the project, and the new space telescope could launch as soon as 2025. The telescope will use infrared light to hunt for potential world-killers.

Under the banner of planetary defense, the project will have an initial budget of $150 million this year. The program under which the new telescope will fall, NEOCam, was originally categorized as a scientific research project. This, of course, meant that when push came to shove, funding for the project was withheld for years until it was recategorized as a planetary defense mission. After all, nothing attracts money like the D-word. 

Read More:


Let’s face it, we know you love Space Porn! You can help support the site by getting yourself a mug or some other great merch from our Marketplace. Even better, you can unlock some fantastic perks by supporting us on Patreon. Thanks a bunch!

Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

You may also like...

-

Leave a Reply