Scaling up ESA’s asteroid facilities

Mon, 11 Oct 2021 02:00:00 GMT
ESA Top News

The new heart of ESA’s Planetary Defence Office was inaugurated today, heralding a new chapter in...

In 2019, ESA adopted a renewed 'Space Safety' programme, and ESA's Planetary Defenders are not only building new, state-of-the-art telescopic eyes on the sky but are working with the international community to devise, build and fly missions to help test asteroid deflection for the first time.

With the greater responsibility, comes the need for expanded coordination facilities serving as the central hub for the Agency's asteroid data and analysis efforts.

"Our new NEOCC and its activities are an important tool of international cooperation, reflecting the global character of the dangers we all face due to asteroids," says ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher.

"ESA's Planetary Defence Office is in regular close contact with all major organisations monitoring asteroid risk, from NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office and their Center for NEO studies, to the UN-endorsed committees that help coordinate the global effort."

"The NEOCC is central to ESA's Planetary Defence Office. Think of it a little like Europe's asteroid 'sorting hat'," explains Detlef Koschny, acting Head of ESA's Planetary Defence Office.

"A key activity of the office, for example, is compiling the Asteroid Risk List. The NEOCC ranks any asteroid with a greater-than-zero chance of impacting Earth, then pools all available observations - getting more if necessary - until we know each object's precise orbit."

"Planetary Defence is a priority for Italy, as witnessed also by the participation to the first asteroid deflection experiment through the DART, LICIACube and Hera missions. Our Country supports since the very beginning the ESA programmes devoted to space safety as an opportunity to give value to the worldwide expertise of the Italian scientific community working on the asteroid hazard."

"Over the years, ESA has successfully advanced the key areas of impact monitoring, asteroid tracking, and discovery observations, thanks to the impressive work of a team of highly skilled experts. They deserve the beautiful state-of the art logistic environment being inaugurated today at ESRIN: it is a clear sign that we are on the right track in the path of taking care of our planet and its citizens."

ESA is a member of two UN-endorsed organisations: the International Asteroid Warning Network, which is currently coordinated by NASA; and the Space Mission Planning Advisory Group, chaired by ESA. SMPAG is the group in charge of preparing an international space-based response to any future asteroid threat.

Last but not least, ESA has an agreement with the European Southern Observatory to use their Very Large Telescope for vital asteroid follow-up observations.

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