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Finding Hazardous Asteroids Using Infrared and Visible Wavelength Telescopes (2019)

Chapter: Appendix C: Advantages and Disadvantages of Ground- and Space-Based Options for Infrared and Visible Observations of Near Earth Objects

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Suggested Citation:"Appendix C: Advantages and Disadvantages of Ground- and Space-Based Options for Infrared and Visible Observations of Near Earth Objects." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Finding Hazardous Asteroids Using Infrared and Visible Wavelength Telescopes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25476.
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Page 54
Suggested Citation:"Appendix C: Advantages and Disadvantages of Ground- and Space-Based Options for Infrared and Visible Observations of Near Earth Objects." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Finding Hazardous Asteroids Using Infrared and Visible Wavelength Telescopes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25476.
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Page 55

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C Advantages and Disadvantages of Ground- and Space-Based Options for Infrared and Visible Observations of Near Earth Objects System Advantages Disadvantages Visible/Radar Systems—Ground- and Space-Based Ground-Based Visible Survey • Accurate orbits • Size estimation based on assumed (e.g., PanSTARRS, CSS, LSST) • Preliminary H (required for size estimate albedo uncertain once albedo is determined, or vice • Will take decades to even approach versa); may provide data on rotation rate 90% completeness—cannot meet the and shape George E. Brown, Jr. Near-Earth Object • Relatively low cost (LSST already under Survey Act limit construction) Ground-Based Visible Characterization • Can provide improved H value, • Field of view impractical for searches; Using Photometry and Spectroscopy taxonomy, mineralogy, and tighter effective only for characterizing known constraints on albedo; light curves objects provide rotation rate, constrain shape, may provide evidence of satellite Ground-Based Radar Characterization • Can provide sizes of known objects if • Impractical for searches; effective only (e.g., Goldstone, Arecibo) they pass sufficiently close to Earth, for characterizing known objects therefore can provide albedos given H • Can dramatically increase the accuracy of orbits of known objects • May provide rotation rate, shape, high- resolution images, confirmation of satellite • Arecibo, Goldstone already exist; maintenance costs are known; each also has non-NEO users 54

APPENDIX C 55 System Advantages Disadvantages Space-Based Visible Survey (e.g., 0.5 • Accurate orbits • Size uncertainty similar to that of m at L1 ) • Preliminary H ground-based surveys • Some characterization depending on • Will take decades to even approach instrumentation 90% completeness—cannot meet the George E. Brown, Jr. Near-Earth Object Survey Act limit • Tradeoff between aperture size, cost, and contribution beyond LSST • Potentially costly at approximately $550 million plus launch • Options to reduce cost below that of Discovery missions exist but mean longer time to achieve completion Space-Based Visible Survey (SmallSat • Lower cost than other options — • Insufficient sensitivity to reach George platform) approximately $40 million per satellite E. Brown, Jr. Near-Earth Object Survey Act criterion • Software for orbit determination does not exist but is under development Infrared Systems—Ground and Space Based Space-Based Infrared Survey (50 cm • Accurate sizes • Potentially expensive at $550 million at L1) • Tight constraints on albedo, given H plus launch • Able to complete survey roughly 10 years after launch Ground-Based Characterization—Mid- • Accurate sizes • Small field of view and low, unreliable Infrared (e.g., Keck, LBT, Gemini) • Tight constraints on albedo, given H sensitivity due to Earth’s atmosphere make searches impractical • Can measure rotation rate, etc., but no benefit over visible wavelength measurements Air-Based Characterization—Aircraft, • Accurate sizes • Small field of view makes searches Mid-Infrared (5-35 μm) (e.g., SOFIA) • Tight constraints on albedo, given H impractical • Suffers much less from atmospheric • Can measure rotation rate, etc., but effects than ground-based infrared no benefit over visible wavelength measurements • Less flexible and more costly than ground-based infrared NOTE: CSS, Catalina Sky Survey; LBT, Large Binocular Telescope; LSST, Large Synoptic Survey Telescope; NEO, near Earth object; P ­ an-STARRS, Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System; SOFIA, Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy.

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Near Earth objects (NEOs) have the potential to cause significant damage on Earth. In December 2018, an asteroid exploded in the upper atmosphere over the Bering Sea (western Pacific Ocean) with the explosive force of nearly 10 times that of the Hiroshima bomb. While the frequency of NEO impacts rises in inverse proportion to their sizes, it is still critical to monitor NEO activity in order to prepare defenses for these rare but dangerous threats.

Currently, NASA funds a network of ground-based telescopes and a single, soon-to-expire space-based asset to detect and track large asteroids that could cause major damage if they struck Earth. This asset is crucial to NEO tracking as thermal-infrared detection and tracking of asteroids can only be accomplished on a space-based platform.

Finding Hazardous Asteroids Using Infrared and Visible Wavelength Telescopes explores the advantages and disadvantages of infrared (IR) technology and visible wavelength observations of NEOs. This report reviews the techniques that could be used to obtain NEO sizes from an infrared spectrum and delineate the associated errors in determining the size. It also evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of these techniques and recommends the most valid techniques that give reproducible results with quantifiable errors.

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