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NASA wants to build a new asteroid-hunting telescope

An asteroid seen in deep space
The asteroid Eros as seen by the NEAR mission in 2000. Photo: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL

NASA is planning to build a spacecraft designed to search the skies for asteroids not far from Earth.

Why it matters: The telescope will help NASA get a more complete sense of how many potentially dangerous asteroids there are near our planet and what harm they may pose.

Details: The mission will survey the skies in infrared light, making it easier to see these objects that are typically dark in optical wavelengths.

  • NASA expects that the NEO Surveillance Mission will cost about $500 million–$600 million in total and will launch no earlier than fiscal year 2025, according to a presentation earlier this week.
  • The mission is expected to help NASA find 90% of near-Earth objects that are 140 meters (459 feet) in size or greater, as mandated by Congress.
  • The NEO Surveillance Mission is in line with recommendations made by a report from the National Academies released in June.

Background: NASA was surprised by a football field-sized asteroid that flew past Earth in July, highlighting the fact that the space agency's current detection methods aren't robust enough.

Where it stands: NASA's NEOWISE telescope is currently surveying the sky in infrared light, but that mission is expected to come to an end in the near future.

  • Survey telescopes on Earth are effective when it comes to finding near-Earth objects, but unlike a space-based infrared observatory, the Earth-bound telescopes require it to be night to hunt for asteroids.
  • NASA plans to launch its DART spacecraft to an asteroid in 2021 to figure out how to best redirect a space rock if one is found on a collision course with Earth.

Be smart: While the threat posed by a large asteroid could be catastrophic, the odds of one hitting Earth are also slim.

  • "It's something to be smart about, but it's not a matter of fear," NASA scientist Tom Statler told Axios in July.

Go deeper: Read more from Space News about the mission