NASA is currently developing a new space telescope that will play an integral role in the agency's planetary defense strategy. According to the space agency, the new telescope will be primarily used to track down asteroids that are large enough to destroy entire cities. Lindley Johnson, the Planetary Defense Officer for NASA, previously confirmed that that agency has already identified and cataloged about 35 percent of the population of the near-Earth objects that are known to zip past the planet. According to the agency's data, many of these asteroids are about 140 meters wide.
In total, 35 percent amounts to about 8,800 near-Earth asteroids. Although this figure may sound impressive, NASA is aware it still has a long way to go when it comes to identifying all asteroids that enter Earth's vicinity. In order to accomplish this goal, NASA recently announced that it is preparing to launch a new space telescope known as Near-Earth Object Surveillance Mission (NEOSM). Details of the mission were unveiled during the recent advisory panel NASA hosted regarding planetary defense strategies.
The main objective of the mission is to track down asteroids that could threaten Earth. NASA is targeting to use NEOSM to spot asteroids that are big enough to cause high levels of damage on Earth. After all, the agency has stated that the main key to preventing an asteroid impact is early detection. NASA is hoping to identify about 90% of all near-Earth asteroids through NEOSM.
NEOSM was conceptualized by NASA through a proposed asteroid-tracking mission dubbed as Near-Earth Object Camera (NEOCam). The proposal for this mission was submitted to NASA in 2015. Unfortunately, after going through several rounds of review procedures, NEOCam was not selected for launch.
Fortunately for NEOSM, it already has better chances of launching into space than NEOCam. Earlier in September, Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for science, confirmed that the agency is prepared to proceed with the development of the mission. He noted that it will handled by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. The agency is targeting to launch the mission sometime in 2025.
NASA's decision to launch a space telescope with the goal of tracking down asteroids was praised by scientists. According to them, it shows the agency's commitment to ensuring Earth's safety through the use of important scientific missions. "NASA's commitment to a space-based asteroid survey is a huge step forward for anyone who cares about human destiny," Richard Binzel, a planetary scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in a statement. "We are finally going to rely on knowledge, rather than luck, as our plan for dealing with hazardous asteroids."