To help guide NASA’s efforts over the next decade, the agency has released its Planetary Defense Strategy and Action Plan.
For three decades, NASA has engaged in studying near-Earth objects (NEOs), asteroids and comets that orbit the Sun and come within 30 million miles of our planet’s orbit. While NEOs have the potential to help planetary scientists better understand the birth and formation of our solar system, some travel in orbits that bring them close enough to Earth’s vicinity to make them potential impact hazards.
To address this, NASA established its Planetary Defense Coordination Office in 2016 to manage agency efforts to find, track, characterize, and – if necessary – mitigating against NEO impacts.
“As we saw with the success of the DART mission, NASA is committed to protecting Earth from potentially hazardous asteroids and comets,” said Administrator Bill Nelson. “Planetary defense benefits all of humanity and NASA’s strategy and action plan outlines how we will continue to protect our home planet over the next decade.”
Earlier this month, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released its updated National Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan for Near-Earth Object Hazards and Planetary Defense to improve U.S. preparedness to address the hazard of NEO impacts over a 10-year period, primarily by organizing and coordinating interagency efforts. NASA’s strategy responds to the U.S. National Planetary Defense Strategy. The NASA strategy focuses the agency’s efforts on planetary defense activities to ensure it is working to achieve the goals outlined in the national-level plan.
The NASA strategy includes all goals outlined in the national-level plan and adds two additional NASA-specific goals. To achieve its objectives, the NASA strategy follows an architecture of envisioning desired end states, identifying key challenges, and developing actions to address the identified challenges.
“An asteroid impact with Earth has potential for catastrophic devastation, and it is also the only natural disaster humanity now has sufficient technology to completely prevent,” said Lindley Johnson, NASA’s planetary defense officer. “The release of this NASA strategy steps up NASA’s intentions for the next 10 years to ensure the agency works both nationally and internationally to protect our planet for the benefit of all.”
Key areas of focus for NASA’s planetary defense over the next decade identified in the agency strategy include:
+ Improving NEO survey, detection, and characterization efforts to work toward a completed catalogue of all NEOs that might pose an impact hazard to Earth
+ Developing and demonstrating NEO mitigation technologies similar to the agency’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, the world’s first planetary defense test mission, which successfully demonstrated one method of asteroid deflection using a kinetic impactor spacecraft
+ Fostering international collaboration related to NEO surveying and mitigation to leverage international capabilities
+ Strengthening interagency coordination between NASA and other U.S. government agencies to enhance and streamline U.S. government NEO preparedness and response planning
+ Review the agency’s internal planning to maximize the benefits obtained from limited resources
+ Better integrate messaging regarding planetary defense work with the agency’s strategic communications
Each of the strategy objectives are defined into short-term, medium-term, long-term, and ongoing timelines with the goal of meeting all objectives within the next 10 years.
Preventing an asteroid impact with Earth to avoid a catastrophic natural disaster poses a complex problem that requires a strategic, multidisciplinary approach. The release of NASA’s Planetary Defense Strategy and Action Plan is a guiding light for the agency as it works toward forward-looking planetary defense efforts, including the launch of NASA’s NEO Surveyor mission. Once launched, NEO Surveyor – working in tandem with current ground-based optical telescope capabilities – will drastically accelerate the rate at which NASA is able to find the still undiscovered population of asteroids and comets that could impact our planet.
The release of the agency’s action plan is an important step forward in ensuring the momentum recently gained continues to safeguard Earth from potentially hazardous NEOs for generations to come.