6 February 2020

At the 57th session of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee, Vienna International Centre

The 14th meeting of the Space Mission Planning Advisory Group (SMPAG) took place on 6 February 2020 in conjunction with the 57th session of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee in Vienna, Austria.  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 (AEM, ASI, CNES, Czech Republic, DLR, ESA, FFG, ISA, JAXA, KASI, NASA, ROSA, Roscosmos, SUPARCO, UKSA). Observers for the Austrian Space Forum, COSPAR (remotely), ESO, IAU and UNOOSA participated at the meeting. The meeting was also attended by representatives from the Charles University, INAF, the University of Maryland and the University of Vienna. Representatives from the SMPAG Legal WG participated remotely.

2) Election of SMPAG Chair

The Chair put before the SMPAG members the agenda item on proposals for the new Chair of SMPAG for the period 2020-2022. The SMPAG Chair informed the Group that no delegation has made a proposal for a new SMPAG Chair. The SMPAG members expressed appreciation and support to ESA in its capacity of the Chair of SMPAG and proposed ESA to be re-elected for the 2020-2022 term. The SMPAG unanimously elected ESA as the recurrent Chair for the period 2020-2022. 

3) Status of SMPAG and update on general items and activities

The Chair of SMPAG gave an update on the status of SMPAG and its activities since its 131h meeting held in Garching, Germany. The membership of SMPAG currently stands at 19 members, and 6 observers. There have been no new membership applications.

Under this item, several members of SMPAG presented current and future activities in the area of planetary defence. The presentations are available at (14th SMPAG meeting).

The representative of NASA presented key activities of the NASA Planetary Defence Coordination Office, the two current planetary defence flight mission projects – NEOWISE and DART as well as information on the NEO Surveillance Mission Concept Objectives (to find 65% of undiscovered Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) >140 m in 5 years (goal: 90% in 10 years)).

The representative of ESA presented ESA’s newly established Space Safety Programme that has been approved at the last ESA Council Meeting at the Ministerial level in autumn 2019, to run for the next 10 years with 3 years funding in place. The Programme contains areas of Space Weather, Planetary Defence, and Space Debris and Clean Space.

Other updates on activities were presented in tour de table, including by DLR on its collaboration and involvement in the Hera mission and the new NEO-MAPP and by the representative of the UK on the NEO activities in the UK, in particular on the Stardust-R activity.

4) Report on the 10th IAWN meeting, 5 February 2020

The coordinator for IAWN (NASA PDCO) presented key points and recommendations of the 10th IAWN meeting that took place at the VIC a day before, on 5 February 2020. There are at present 25 official signatories to the IAWN Statement of Intent, main activities by IAWN signatories in the last year included:

- the collection of approximately, 27.8 million observations of asteroids and comets  in 2019, with over 200,000 of NEOs alone, by the worldwide efforts of astronomical observatories in over 40 countries; 

- the discovery of a record 2,433 NEOs in 2019;

The number of known NEOs was 22,212 as of 5 February 2020, with more than 2,000 asteroids now catalogued whose orbits bring them within 8 million kilometers of Earth’s orbit.

The representative also informed SMPAG of two significant events, namely that on 24 July 2019, the asteroid designated as “2019 OK” by the Minor Planet Center, estimated to be approximately 100 metres in diameter, passed at a distance of only 72,000 km from the surface of Earth just 12 hours after its discovery by an IAWN member, the Southern Observatory for Near-Earth Asteroid Research (SONEAR) in Brazil, making it the closest known approach of an object of its size in the last 100 years.

Furthermore, IAWN heard a presentation by its new member, Gennady Borisov from the Lomonosov Moscow State University, who, using his independently operated MARGO Observatory, discovered a comet on 30 August 2019, since designated as 2I/Borisov, that originated from outside the solar system. 2I/Borisov is only the second interstellar object to be identified, the first being ‘Oumuamua discovered in 2017.

5) Update on Laser SpaceApps Workshop (CZ)

The representative of the Czech Republic presented the outcomes of the Laser SpaceApps Workshop, held in Prague, 25-27 September 2019 as part of a comprehensive report on laser-technology-related activities in the Czech Republic, in particular the initiative Peaceful Use of Lasers in Space (PULS). The initiative is also planned to be announced during COPUOS in June, in the lead up to the PULS conference in September 2020, in Mikulov, CZ.

6) Update on on-going and planed PD-related missions: 

SMPAG exchanged information on on-going and planned activities of its members, and was informed about:

  • Hayabusa2 (JAXA): Sample return mission Hayabusa2 has conducted various tasks since its arrival at the target asteroid (162173) Ryugu in June 2018, including the world’s first successful exploration of the surface of an asteroid by a rover and the deployment of a robotic lander, and is expected to return to Earth at the end of 2020.
  • OSIRIS-REx (NASA): This NASA mission, with the participation of Canada, France and Japan, is expected to retrieve a sample of material from its target asteroid, (101955) Bennu, in July this year, returning to Earth in 2023.
  • DART mission (NASA): Planned to be launched in summer 2021, with the DART spacecraft expected to impact the 160-metre-sized moonlet of the binary near-Earth asteroid (65803) Didymos in the fall of 2022 to demonstrate a kinetic impact orbit deflection technique.
  • Hera mission (ESA):  As a follow-up mission to DART, the Hera mission is planned to encounter the Didymos asteroid system in 2026 and provide a valuable post-impact assessment of the effects of the DART deflection test.

SMPAG noted with satisfaction the commitment of NASA and ESA to implementing the DART and Hera missions, respectively. (see Annex).

  • New F-class mission ´Comet Interceptor´ (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.
  • Destiny+ (JAXA): This mission is intended to reach the asteroid Phaethon.

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

The coordinator of the SMPAG Legal WG, Alissa Haddaji, informed SMPAG that following its 13th meeting a total of 41 comments to the draft report were received. Those comments have been responded to, and several accommodated in the final version of the report that was presented at the 14th SMPAG meeting on 6 February 2020.  SMPAG endorsed the report as an internal SMPAG report, noting that minor comments are still welcome by mid-March 2020. SMPAG commended the Legal WG and all its members for their engagement and dedicated work on the report, and thanked Alissa Haddaji for her role as coordinator of the report.

The report will be made available on the SMPAG webpage. Several ideas have also been discussed on how to publicize the report (e.g. in journals such as Acta Astronautica, Space Policy) as well as making it available for information to delegations as a Conference Room Paper by SMPAG to the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee in 2021.

SMPAG agreed that the Ad Hoc Working Group on Legal Issues would be kept active to continue providing advice on legal issues expected to surface during SMPAG activities.

8) Status of work plan items[1]

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). The task is considered completed.

5.2 Mitigation mission types and technologies to be considered (UKSA): update was presented.

5.3 Mapping of threat scenarios to mission types (ESA):  update was presented.

5.4 Reference missions for different NEO threat scenarios (ASI):  update was presented.

It was agreed that the teams responsible for tasks 5.2, 5.3, and 5.4 should coordinate their activities.

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): An outline was submitted from the splinter meeting held on 4 February 2020, hosted by the Natural History Museum Vienna. This outline will be reviewed by the participants and then distributed to SMPAG for comments.

5.9. Criteria for deflection targeting (ROSA): update was presented.

5.10 Study of a nuclear device option: A first compilation of existing literature that addresses issues related to NEO mitigation using a nuclear device has been made available (references and abstracts/summaries).

5.11 Toolbox for a characterisation payload (CNES): update was presented.

In connection with this work plan item SMPAG at its next meeting will consider the following recommendation proposal:  SMPAG acknowledges the emergence at ESA and JAXA of two - small class –high velocity flyby missions to small bodies, Comet Interceptor and Destiny+. These initiatives pave the way towards similar reconnaissance missions to PHAs, and related instrumentation, that could be needed prior to mitigation missions.

9) AOB

1) Erice School on NEOs, 15-21 November 2020

An update was provided on the 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. Final confirmation from the Erice Centre was received in December 2019, organizers agreed on new dates, i.e. 15-21 November 2020, to allow for proper announcement of opportunity and organization of the school. The school is intended to be interdisciplinary, covering the following programme clusters: I) Scientific: 2) Policy and legal; 3) Disaster preparedness and response: 4) Communicating NEOs. SMPAG and IAWN members were invited to provide inputs to the proposed outline and are invited to provide further inputs/lecture interest.

2) 2021 Planetary Defense Conference, 26-30 April 2021 hosted by UNOOSA in the Vienna International Centre, Board Room D. Given the venue (UN), the Conference should focus also on policy and decision-making elements so as to raise awareness of the diplomatic community about the issue. A preparatory meeting with the Organizing Committee and the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) was held on 5 February in Vienna. UNOOSA presented the current outline of the programme and venue.

A webpage with basic information should be set up by UNOOSA asap

10) Next SMPAG meeting:

The 15th SMPAG meeting will take place on 24 September 2020 in Cambridge/MA in the USA, It will be preceded with the IAWN meeting on 23 September 2020. This will give the participants also a possibility to interact with the Minor Planet Center.



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SMPAG Statement of support for DART and Hera missions:

Having highlighted the need for NEO deflection test missions, SMPAG notes with satisfaction the commitment of NASA and ESA to implementing the DART and Hera missions, respectively. These missions will be the first to test the viability and efficiency of a NEO deflection technique, namely the kinetic impactor. SMPAG now encourages space agencies to prioritize further missions to test other hazardous-object deflection methods, such as the gravity tractor or other slow push/pull methods.


[1] As agreed at the 13th SMPAG meeting, the Workplan has been made available in a simplified format (Reference SMPAG-PL-001/2.0, as of September 2019). Lead of workplan items should provide updates and reports to the SMPAG Secretariat, cc SMPAG Chair. The documentation will be archived by UNOOSA as the SMPAG Secretariat.