Sep 25, 2019

NASA wants to build a new asteroid-hunting telescope

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

Go deeper

NASA has a new head of human spaceflight

Photo: NASA

Former Department of Defense official Douglas Loverro has been named NASA's new head of human spaceflight after a months-long search.

Why it matters: Loverro will help lead NASA's push to the Moon as part of its Artemis program to land astronauts back on the lunar surface by 2024, as directed by the Trump administration.

Read moreArrowOct 16, 2019

Space is the next surveillance frontier

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Gathering photos of Earth from space used to be the purview of governments alone, but today, private companies are increasingly performing those operations from orbit.

Why it matters: The change has created a new commercial market and enhanced how governments are able to monitor activities on Earth from space. It's also raising questions about privacy on Earth.

Go deeperArrowSep 25, 2019

SpaceX and Boeing unlikely to launch astronauts to orbit this year

SpaceX's uncrewed Crew Dragon mission at launch. Photo: SpaceX

Boeing and SpaceX — tasked with building spacecraft to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station for NASA — are not likely to launch people to orbit before the end of the year.

Why it matters: The Commercial Crew program is tasked with ending NASA's reliance on Russia's Soyuz rocket but has faced technical delays and budget shortfalls for years, leaving the space agency dependent on Russia's spaceflight capabilities.

Go deeperArrowOct 8, 2019