Limitations of the survey network and the recent incidence of latest moment asteroid identification determined NASA to decide to build a $600 million space-based telescope to act as an early warning system against asteroids on a collision course with Earth.
The Near-Earth Object Surveillance Mission, announced on Monday, would put a 50-centimeter telescope armed with an infrared camera into orbit. Congress must still approve funding for the mission before any real work can be initiated. The total cost of the mission would be $500 to $600 million, for launch in 2025. Congress’s 2005 mandate ordered NASA to find 90 percent of near-Earth asteroids larger than 140 meters in diameter by 2020. Most experts estimate we’ve only identified about 30% of the near-Earth asteroids.
An artist vision of space telescope NEOCAM
The information we have comes from the 10-year-old WISE/NEOWISE system. Scientists estimate that there are 25,000 near-Earth objects larger than 140 meters across. “One of the most important things NASA can do, in my opinion, is use science and technology to help protect the Earth and all of its inhabitants from bad things like climate change, loss of biodiversity, and in this case, asteroid and comet impacts,” NEOCam’s principal investigator, Amy Mainzer, told to scientific media.