13 September 2019

ESO, Garching, Germany

The 13th meeting of the Space Mission Planning Advisory Group (SMPAG) took place on 13 September 2019 at the European Southern Observatory in Garching, Germany.  The meeting was chaired by the European Space Agency (ESA), the current SMPAG Chair (2018-2020) and supported by the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) as the Secretariat. 

1) Adoption of the agenda and introduction of participants.

The agenda was adopted. The following agencies and institutions were represented at the meeting (Czech Republic, DLR, ESA, FFG, NASA). Observers for ASF (Austrian Space Forum), COSPAR, ESO and UNOOSA participated at the meeting. The meeting was also attended by representatives from INAF, the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the University of Maryland, ESA public relations officers and the press. Representatives from the SMPAG WG Legal participated remotely.

2) Status of SMPAG and general items

The Chair of SMPAG gave an update on the status of SMPAG and its activities since its 121h meeting in Vienna in February 2019. There have been no new membership applications. Canada expressed interest to join.

SMPAG agreed to amend its Terms of Reference, Version 1.0 (as of 5 February 2015), under point 6. Steering Committee, to allow for the SMPAG Chair to be re-elected.

The third paragraph under point 6. of ToRs now reads:

The chairmanship of the Steering Committee should normally rotate among the Members at two-year intervals. The Chair can be re-elected. The Chair will be nominated by Members and confirmed by simple majority vote of the Steering Committee. The Chair of the Steering Committee will represent the SMPAG at UNCOPUOS.

The new ToRs have been made available on the SMPAG website as SMPAG ToRs Version 2.0, as of 13 September 2019.

Under this item, several members of SMPAG presented current and future activities in the area of planetary defence.

The representative of NASA presented key componenents of the US National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan (Strategy and Action Plan) that was released in June 2018 by the White House and is aimed at improving national preparedness to address the hazard of NEO impacts and also has a strong component on international collaboration.

The representative of ESA presented ESA’s upcoming Space Safety Programme, containing areas of Space Weather, Planetary Defence, and Space Debris and Clean Space (prevention and remediation).

The representatives of the Czech Republic reported that their country was in the process of adopting a national space plan, which will also include some actions related to international cooperation in planetary defence.


3) Update on recent events

3.1. 9th IAWN meeting, 12 September 2019

A representative of IAWN presented key points and recommendations of the 9th IAWN meeting that took place the previous day, on 12 September 2019, at ESO Garching. The membership of IAWN has grown by 4 signatories to 17, and there are currently 3 new applicants to sign the IAWN Statement of Intent. IAWN also discussed communications, both internal and to the public and UN, in case of a credible impact threat. IAWN will continue to work on templates for information dissemination in case of a credible impact threat, to have them in place for the 2021 PDC and practice using the templates. It also addressed guidelines and language to use for the scenario and in press releases of other entities to refer to IAWN.

IAWN will also work on definitions and terminology on NEOs. Actions include defining a proposed new term Potentially Impacting Object and draft text of a definition of NEO as natural hazard, to include also threshold criteria (IAWN/SMPAG). The latter will serve as an input to UNOOSA/UN/SPIDER to be submitted to the UN Office on Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) to include NEOs in their updated glossary of natural hazards.

3.2. IAA Planetary Defense Conference, 29 April to 3 May 2019

The SMPAG Chair presented a summary of the 6th IAA Planetary Defence Conference, held from 29 April to 3 May in the Washington D.C. area (University of Maryland), including Statements of support produced during the conference for:

A representative of JPL presented in more detail the 2019 PDC Hypothetical Asteroid Impact Scenario (Tabletop Exercise).

3.3. 2019 Scientific and Technical Forum (SnT) CTBTO Panel on Civil Applications: Towards Monitoring Near Earth Objects Impacting the Atmosphere

The representative of UNOOSA gave an overview of the NEO panel at the 2019 CTBTO SnT that was held at Hofburg, Vienna on 27 June 2019. The panel presented to the scientific community activities of UNOOSA, IAWN and SMPAG in the area of NEOs and planetary defence and addressed the current state of infrasound technology with respect to detecting exploding fireballs and the usability of the International Monitoring System (IMS) infrasound data. As a follow-up, further options are to be explored with CTBTO on enabling access to infrasound data to detect metre-sized objects impacting Earth to improve knowledge of the population in this size range.

4) Recommendation for NEO reconnaissance missions

At this meeting, SMPAG finalized the text of a recommendation to perform a demonstration of a rapidly deployable flyby or rendezvous mission to collect critical information on a threatening asteroid or comet (see Annex to the present report).

5) Update on missions:

  • Hayabusa2 mission (JAXA): SMPAG looked at the latest webpage images of the JAXA Hayabusa2 mission, including the second touchdown clip and discussed the latest progess of this mission.
  • OSIRIS-REx (NASA): Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer is currently operating in very close proximity to Bennu, one of the smallest solar system bodies ever visited. Upcoming activities include re-fly the Detailed Survey (Sept 26) and official start of the reconnaissance phase (Sept 28). The sample collection activities are planned for July 2020, with sample return in 2023.
  • DART (NASA): The objective of the mission is to impact the moon of the double asteroid Didymos, planned for late September 2022. The aim is to test the kinetic impactor technique. The mission is in spacecraft assembly phase.
  • Hera mission (ESA) planned objectives were presented, among them the measurement of momentum transfer efficiency of the DART impact on the moon of Didymos. Hera will arrive at the asteroid in 2026. Phase B2 of the mission will start 19 September 2019. Further funding for the mission will be requested at the ESA Council Meeting at Ministerial level in November 2019.
  • The Comet Interceptor Mission (ESA): Selected in response to the ESA F-class call, to encounter either an insterstellar object or a dynamically new comet (DNC). It is envisioned as a multiple spacecraft encounter, in cooperation with JAXA. The launch is planned for 2028 with a comet encounter in early 2030.
  • Apophis Reconnaissance Mission (NASA): The project, scheduled for 2024 to 2029, includes a smallsat class spacecraft to launch in December 2026 to visit and study the potentially hazardous near-Earth asteroid 99942 Apophis (2004 MN4), rendezvous with Apophis no later than end of Feb 2029 at which point proximity operations begin, and is to remain with Apophis for at least 3 to 4 months after the Earth close approach.
  • Janus mission concept to explore two NEO Binary Asteroids (NASA): This is a University of Colorado/Lockheed Martin science mission, selected in response to the SIMPLEx call for proposals for Phase A/B.
  • Prague Laser SpaceAppss Workshop 2019 on asteroid analysis and deflection (Czech Republic): to be held 25 to 27 September in Prague, Czech republic. It will include several dedicated sessions on laser research for 3 space applications: orbital debris tracking/removal, asteroid analysis/deflection and interstellar travel through photon propulsion, and address this also from the perspective of global governance of Large Technical Systems.

6) Report by the SMPAG Ad-Hoc Working Group on Legal Issues

The coordinator of the SMPAG Legal WG, Alissa Haddaji, presented the current status and way forward towards finalizing the legal report of the SMPAG Working Group. Several delegations provided comments on the draft report since the last meeting of SMPAG in February 2019. These comments are currently being assessed for the final version of the report, to be presented at the 14th SMPAG meeting on 6 February 2020.  SMPAG agreed that no further comments on this report will be accepted. SMPAG criteria and thresholds can be referenced in the report.

SMPAG commended the Legal WG and all its members for their engagement and dedicated work  towards finalizing the report, and thanked Alissa Haddaji for her role as coordinator of the report.

7) Status of work plan items

Status reports were given on the following work plan items:

5.1 Criteria and thresholds for impact response actions (NASA): A final report was submitted in Feb. 2019.  Reference no. SMPAG-RP-003, v. 2.0 (Feb 2019). An update will be provided.

5.2 Mitigation mission types and technologies to be considered (UKSA): no update.

5.3 Mapping of threat scenarios to mission types (ESA):  a draft report will be presented in Feb. 2020. The rationale in the workplan to be shortened/updated.

5.4 Reference missions for different NEO threat scenarios (ASI):  a draft report is in preparation.

5.5 A plan for action in case of a credible threat (NASA/IAA): a draft report is available on the SMPAG webpage for comments. Reference no. SMPAG-RP-002/D.0 (2018 Oct).

5.6 Communication guidelines in case of a credible threat (NASA): no update.

5.7 Produce a roadmap for future work on planetary defence (DLR): This is a living document. The last report carries reference no. SMPAG-RP-001, v.2.0, 2017 Oct on the SMPAG webpage. A new version  (SMPAG-RP-001, v. 3.0) is in preparation.

5.8 Consequences, including failure, of NEO mitigation space missions (FFG): Following the splinter meeting held on 12 February 2019, hosted by the Natural History Museum Vienna, a draft report is in preparation and will be submitted to the 14th SMPAG meeting in Feb.2020. An activity description has to be provided for the workplan.

5.9. Criteria for deflection targeting (ROSA): no update.

5.10 Study of a nuclear device option: All to engage in this workplan item. SMPAG members to review existing literature that addresses issues related to NEO mitigation using a nuclear device option and provide inputs (references and abstracts/summaries) to the SMPAG Secretariat.

5.11 Toolbox for a characterisation payload (CNES): A first draft report is expected before the next SMPAG meeting.

In future, the Workplan will be made available in a simplified format (Reference SMPAG-PL-001/2.0, as of September 2019). Updates will be made by the Secretariat at SMPAG meetings. Lead of workplan items should provide reports to the SMPAG Secretariat, cc SMPAG Chair.

8) Next SMPAG meeting:

The 14th SMPAG meeting will be held on Thursday, 6 February 2020 at the Vienna International Centre, Vienna, during the 57th session of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee (3-14 February 2020), preceded by the 10th meeting of the International Asteroid Warning Network Steering Committee on 5 February 2020.

9) AOB

  • Erice School on NEOs: An update was provided on the proposed school on NEOs, to be  hosted by the Erice Centre for Scientific Culture, co-organized by NASA and UNOOSA, with the support of IAWN and SMPAG members. Awaiting final confirmation from the Erice Centre. Tentative dates are 20-24 April 2020.
  • The next Planetary Defense Conference will be hosted by UNOOSA in Vienna, from 26 to 30 April 2021.

A preparatory meeting will be held on 5 February during the 10th IAWN meeting in Vienna.

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Recommendation to perform a demonstration of a rapidly deployable flyby or rendezvous mission to collect critical information on a threatening asteroid or comet

Should IAWN issue an alert of an asteroid or comet with a recognized risk of impacting Earth, the success of any subsequent effort to deflect or otherwise mitigate the threat will depend on accurate and precise information on the object’s orbit and its physical properties.  Accurate and precise information on the object’s orbit will enable reliable predictions on the probability of impact and, the areas of Earth that might be affected.  In addition to orbital parameters, basic information on the object’s physical and dynamical properties, such as mass, shape, size, composition, and rotation state, could be critical for the design of a mitigation mission.  Accurate information on the shape, size and structure would facilitate successful implementation of a deflection mission. A threatening object might also be a multiple body system (having one or several moons). Information to confirm or eliminate this possibility could directly affect the overall success of a mitigation campaign.

Should ground-based information not be sufficient, in the case of  a short-warning time, a rapidly deployable flyby mission could provide information on physical properties and the existence of any accompanying object (s). In the case of a longer warning time, a rendezvous mission, if possible, would refine the object’s physical characteristics, such as mass and composition, and the existence of any accompanying object(s). All this information would increase the likelihood of a successful mitigation campaign.

It is expected that a near-Earth object (NEO) characterization mission could be adequately performed by relatively small and inexpensive spacecraft with limited payloads. However, the feasibility of development and operation of such a NEO reconnaissance mission and the information that can be obtained must be demonstrated. For these reasons, the Space Mission Planning Advisory Group (SMPAG) recommends that small-scale NEO flyby or rendezvous demonstration missions be performed to test and verify our ability to characterize a potential impactor when needed.