NEO NEWS (21 April 2015) NASA ARM, OSIRIS-Rex, and Planetary Defense Conference


Bolden Not Concerned About ARM Criticism

Space News, April 15 2015, by Jeff Foust


NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said April 14 he is not concerned with recent criticism of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) by the agency’s own advisory group.

The NASA Advisory Council, at an April 10 meeting in Washington, unanimously approved a finding that concluded that NASA should not carry out its current plans for ARM. Those plans involve landing a spacecraft on a near Earth asteroid, grabbing a boulder several meters across, and returning that boulder to orbit around the Moon in order to be visited by astronauts on an Orion spacecraft.

The council instead suggested that NASA develop one of the key ARM technologies, solar electric propulsion, and use it to power a spacecraft on a round-trip flight to Mars. Other reasons for flying ARM, including asteroid science and planetary defense, “do not have value commensurate with their probable cost.”

Bolden, in a brief interview after a panel session of space agency leaders here, said he had not received the formal text of the council’s finding, but did not anticipate NASA making a formal response to it. “It’s just a finding, so there’s no need for a response,” he said, as opposed to a recommendation that would require one.

Asked if he was concerned about this latest criticism of ARM, two years after NASA first announced plans to carry out the mission, Bolden offered a succinct response: “Not really.”


OSIRIS-REx Mission Progress

NASA Press Release, March 31


NASA’s groundbreaking science mission to retrieve a sample from an ancient space rock has moved closer to fruition. The Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission has passed a critical milestone in its path towards launch and is officially authorized to transition into its next phase….

“This is an exciting time for the OSIRIS-REx team,” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-Rex at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “After almost four years of intense design efforts, we are now proceeding with the start of flight system assembly. I am grateful for the hard work and team effort required to get us to this point.”

OSIRIS-REx is the first U.S. mission to return samples from an asteroid to Earth. The spacecraft will travel to a near-Earth asteroid called Bennu and bring at least a 60-gram (2.1-ounce) sample back to Earth for study. OSIRIS-REx carries five instruments that will remotely evaluate the surface of Bennu…..OSIRIS-REx is scheduled for launch in late 2016. The spacecraft will reach Bennu in 2018 and return a sample to Earth in 2023.


Planetary Defense Conference April 13-17 in Frascati, Italy

Attendance was 245, including 16 from the media. There were 81 oral papers, and approximately the same number of poster papers.

Planetary Society blog: []

Media Briefing and access to additional information: []

Asteroid Threat Exercise at PDC Meeting

by David Morrison

Over the 5 days of the Planetary Defense Conference in Frascati, the attendees participated in an imaginary impact scenario. The fictional asteroid 2015PDC followed an orbit carefully planned by Paul Chodas (JPL); Mark Boslough (Sandia) modeled the probable effects of impacts over land and sea, and Debbie Lewis (Axiom) stage-managed the exercise. The scientists attending the meeting provided regular strategy inputs to the “world leaders” on how to deal with the possibility of an impact on September 3, 2022. Many volunteered for role-playing to represent the reactions of political leaders and the public.

The exercise began on Day 1 of the conference with the announcement, dated June 9, 2015, of discovery of 2015PDC (a fictitious asteroid with diameter between 150 and 450m) and its predicted close pass by Earth seven years in the future. On Day 2 it was announced that new observations had improved knowledge of the orbit and now predicted a 50% chance of impact, and by December 2016 (18 months after discovery) an impact was certain. Although the exact location could not be determined, the locus of possible impact points was defined by a “risk corridor” that stretched from the Pacific Ocean, across the South China Sea, and into the South Asian mainland. Cities lying close to this path included Manila, Hanoi, Dhaka, Delhi, and Tehran. Here the role-playing began, with the realization that the areas at risk were all in Asia, and that a majority of the world’s Moslems were living along the risk corridor, while most of the decision-making would likely be done in Europe and the United States. The only two nations along risk corridor with substantial space capabilities were China and India.

By summer 2019 the risk corridor had shrunk to within the South China Sea. While there could be potential tsunami damage to the nations around this body of water, large population centers such as Dhaka and Delhi were spared. In spite of the reduced risk, the US, ESA, and Russia proposed to launch several kinetic impactor (KI) missions in the only available window in August 2019. This information precipitated the major crises of the exercise, since any KI effort that was not fully successful in moving the target area off the Earth could move it into the heavily populated parts of India and Bangladesh. Thus some nations wanted to take the hit and deal with the resulting tsunami, while others opted for the KI attempts. We faced the new threat of possible warfare between China and India.

The adopted scenario did include the launch of several KI missions, but the deflection was only partially successful. The asteroid split, with one part missing the Earth, while a 100m fragment was still headed for the Ganges and Brahmaputra deltas, including the cities of Delhi and Dhaka. Having tried to deflect the asteroid, we were now dealing with a human-made threat rather than an “act of god”, with associated issues of liability and compensation. India unilaterally decided to attempt a last-minute nuclear strike on the asteroid, but this mission failed. The exercise concluded with asteroid impact near Dhaka on September 3, 2022.

Was this a realistic simulation of an impact threat? The answer is yes, for the orbit of the asteroid and the limited windows for telescopic and radar observations. But the political leaders were being played by scientists with no prior expertise on the nations involved, so their assessments and decisions were strictly amateur. In any case, it was educational for the participants. We got a much better idea of how difficult it would be to measure size and physical properties, and how few opportunities there would be for spacecraft or radar observations, in the case where the asteroid picked us, not the other way around. And it illustrated that while we talk about defending the planet, in a real case individual nations will likely have conflicting priorities on how to deal with the threat.


NEO News (now in its twentieth year of distribution) is an informal compilation of news and opinion dealing with Near Earth Objects (NEOs) and their impacts. These opinions are the responsibility of the individual authors and do not represent the positions of NASA, Ames Research Center, the International Astronomical Union, or any other organization. If anyone wishes to copy or redistribute original material from these notes, fully or in part, please include this disclaimer.

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