Summary of the 15th meeting of the Space Mission Planning Advisory Group (SMPAG)

24 Sep 2020, Virtual meeting

The 15th meeting of the Space Mission Planning Advisory Group (SMPAG) took place on 24 September 2020 in a virtual format. The meeting was chaired by the European Space Agency (ESA), the current SMPAG Chair (2020-2022) 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, BELSPO, CNES, CNSA, Czech Republic, DLR, ESA, FFG, ISA, KASI, NASA). Observers for ASE, Austrian Space Forum, IAA, COSPAR, IAWN and UNOOSA participated at the meeting. The meeting was also attended by representatives from the SMPAG Legal WG, from the Charles University, Georgetown University, the University of Maryland and the University of Vienna.

2) Remarks by UNOOSA Director Simonetta Di Pippo on PDC 2021

In the lead-up to UNOOSA hosting the 7th IAA Planetary Defence Conference at the Vienna International Centre (VIC) from 26 to 30 April 2021, UNOOSA Director Simonetta Di Pippo addressed the participants at the meeting, stressing that the Office attaches great importance to the work done by the SMPAG and by the IAWN at the international level in sharing information and building measures towards protecting our planet and population from hazards coming from space, such as the possible damage from an asteroid or comet impact. Di Pippo emphasized that hosting the PDC at one among the four UN Headquarters is aimed, in particular, to raise awareness of this specific natural hazard among policy and decision-makers as well as general public, aimed towards generating further support for risk mitigation activities. Di Pippo also thanked ESA for its support in the organization of the event as well as the host country, Austria, the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG) and the Austrian Space Forum for their engagement.

3) NEO related activities in SMPAG member states (all)[1]

Under this item, in tour de table, several members of SMPAG presented current and future activities in the area of planetary defence, including by:

  • AEM on their plans to include NEOs as a natural hazard as part of their national emergency and preparedness action plan;
  • DLR on its collaboration and involvement in the Hera mission and the new NEOMAPP;
  • Czech Republic on laser-technology-related activities in the Czech Republic, in particular the initiative Peaceful Use of Lasers in Space (PULS) and the related PULS conference, initially scheduled for September 2020, and now postponed;
  • KASI, on draft plan for Apophis rendezvous mission in 2029, which is based on the 3rd revision of the Basic Plan for Promotion of Space Development (2018) of the Korean Government, in terms of planetary science, planetary defence and technology demonstration as well as on the KASI’s Long-term Research Plan (2022-2030)

4) Report on the 11th IAWN meeting, 23 September 2020 (virtual)

The coordinator for IAWN (NASA PDCO), Kelly Fast, presented key points of the 11th IAWN meeting that took place a day before. The IAWN now has 26 signatories and 3 more applications pending approval. The Signatories presented their status updates, their capabilities and the list of the IAWN Steering Committee members can be found on the IAWN website at, which is supported by NASA’s Planetary Data System Small Bodies Node at the University of Maryland as part of its Minor Planet Center management activities.

Other main points of the IAWN meeting included:

  • The NEO observation and data processing capabilities of IAWN are managing to operate around the Covid-19 restrictions. Although the observation rate to the Minor Planet Center dropped in late March when a number of observatories temporarily closed, and although some important observatory sites remain closed, the observation rate has gone back up, an example of why worldwide participation in IAWN is so valuable.
  • The announcement of plans for an Apophis observing campaign during its next close approach in March 2021 at ~0.11 au, with favorable Earth-based observing conditions as an excellent opportunity for an IAWN-led observing campaign as this will be the last observing opportunity before its 2029 close approach. An Apophis virtual workshop was also introduced, to be held 4-9 November


  • A proposal was made for an International Year of Planetary Defense, along the lines of the International Year of Astronomy in 2006, by Doris Daou of NASA, noting that one possibility for timing and justification is the Apophis encounter in 2029. UNOOSA will look into the process for declaring such a year at the level of UN Secretariat. 
  • Among topics discussed were also updates on the status of Minor Planet Center activities; recent modifications to the computations of the Palermo Scale, and updates on the planning of the 2021 PDC.
  • In executive session, the IAWN Steering Committee gave input on a draft Minor Planet Center policy for observations found not to be of natural objects and removed from the NEO Confirmation Page. A policy for the IAWN Steering Committee is to be drafted, to ensure the Steering Committee continues to represent the core capabilities of IAWN but also incorporates rotational opportunities for the growing body of IAWN Signatories.

5) Updates on recent events and ongoing and planned PD-related activities[2]

SMPAG exchanged information on on-going and planned activities of its members:

  • Workshop on asteroid mining (by SMPAG Chair): A letter with recommendations stemming from this workshop, which was held from 10-12 March 2020 at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver will be shared among SMPAG members and is open for signatures of support. Planetary defense issues, as addressed by IAWN and SMPAG, were often used as input for discussions, as the issue overlaps with asteroid mining
  • Update on Hayabusa2 (by Patrick Michel, member of the Team): Sample return mission Hayabusa2 has conducted various tasks since its arrival at the target asteroid (162173) Ryugu in June 2018, succeeded in two touch-downs and two sample-returns; with expected return date to Earth on 6 December 2020. JAXA approved the extended mission of Hayabusa2, selecting 1998 KY26 as the target asteroid, which is a very small and fast-rotating object ((diameter about 30 m, spin period about 10min). The spacecraft will reach the asteroid in 2031.
  • Update on OSIRIS-REx (NASA): This mission is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, together with June (Jupiter- exploration mission) and Dragonfly (to Saturn's biggest moon Titan). It is expected to retrieve a sample of material from its target asteroid, (101955) Bennu, on 20 October 2020, returning to Earth in 2023.
  • Update on DART mission (NASA): Planned to be launched in July 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.
  • Update on 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.
  • Asteroid-related CubeSat studies M-Argo and LUMIO (ESA): The Lunar Meteoroid Impact Observer (LUMIO) and M-Argo (Miniaturised Asteroid Remote Geophysical Observer) are two of ESA’s numerous small missions planned as part of ESA’s Technology strategy to develop CubeSats that can rendezvous with asteroids.
  • Destiny+ (JAXA): The following update was provided after the meeting by JAXA: the mission is in Phase-A and is expected to shift to Phase-B at the end of this fiscal year.
    The launch is planned for 2024.

6) SMPAG recommendation for high velocity flyby missions to small bodies

SMPAG discussed potential statement of recommendation for the planned missions Comet Interceptor (ESA) and Destiny+ (JAXA). SMPAG agreed to postpone this recommendation and discuss it at its next meeting, planned for 3 February 2021, with a view to make the recommendation more generic, welcoming high velocity flyby missions to small bodies and highlighting their principles, technologies and techniques that could be applied to PD-related missions.

Action: SMPAG All

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

The SMPAG discussed way forward to raise awareness about this initial legal assessment by the SMPAG Legal WG and considered several options to publicize the report:

  • Journals, both scientific and legal; and blogs;
  • CRP: SMPAG will make information about the report with key findings (executive summary under each chapter) available to delegations of COPUOS member States as a Conference Room Paper (CRP) at the 58th session of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee in 2021; a technical presentation by a delegation could also be made at the 60th session Legal Subcommittee in 2021;
  • International conferences, such as the upcoming 2021 PDC, and other subject related conferences.​​​​​​​

The coordinator of the SMPAG Legal WG, Alissa Haddaji, prepared several ideas on the way forward for the SMPAG Legal WG. A list of proposed topics is included in the Annex to this report. 

Action: SMPAG All to review the list and provide feedback directly to the SMPAG legal WG Coordinator.

8) Status of work plan items[3]

SMPAG agreed that the existing recommendations under each of the workplan items should be reviewed and commented upon.

Action: SMPAG All, by the next SMPAG meeting, 3 February 2021.

Status reports were given on the following work plan items:

5.1 Criteria and thresholds for impact response actions (NASA): Completed. Final report Reference no. SMPAG-RP-003, v. 2.0 (Feb 2019).

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

5.3 Mapping of threat scenarios to mission types (ESA): next step is to look at a concrete object/impact threat and do an assessment

5.4 Reference missions for different NEO threat scenarios (ASI):  update was presented, see (15th SMPAG meeting) for presentation by ASI

5.5 A plan for action in case of a credible threat (NASA/IAA): no update.

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): Version 3 available. Reference no. SMPAG-RP-003 at

5.8 Consequences, including failure, of NEO mitigation space missions (FFG): draft report is to be made available shortly and distributed to SMPAG for comments

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

5.10 Study of a nuclear device option: SMPAG members are asked to provide references to SMPAG Secretariat for a compilation of existing literature that addresses issues related to NEO mitigation using a nuclear device has been made available (references and abstracts/summaries). (Action: SMPAG All)

5.11 Toolbox for a characterisation payload (CNES): a spreadsheet is to be re-distributed to SMPAG for inputs,  aimed at identifying references of instruments that could be used for NEO characterization prior to mitigation missions, (Action: SMPAG All, by the next SMPAG meeting)

9) 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, to raise awareness of the diplomatic community about the issue.  A decision whether the conference will be held on-site/ or in a hybrid or purely virtual meeting will me made mid-January 2021.

10) Next SMPAG meeting:

The 16th SMPAG meeting will take place on 3 February 2021 in conjunction with the 58th session of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee.  



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Proposed topics for future work by the SMPAG Legal WG

Action: SMPAG All: SMPAG members are asked to review the proposals and send feedback on them as well as any new ideas for the future work of the WG Legal to the team coordinator directly at by 31 October 2020.                

1) Topics that have been introduced in initial report by the Legal WG report (Reference: SMPAG-RP-004), and are proposed to be considered in more detail:

1.1. The legality of nuclear-weapons-related activities in space, research which could be conducted in connection with the WOOMERA and MILAMOS manuals;

1.2. Drafts or templates for potential future planetary defence missions to research the legal necessary steps before an actual NEO impact threat occurs to ensure that planetary defence missions are carried out in conformity with international law, such as:

i) Elements of a mandate for States carrying out the planetary defence mission;

ii) Parameters for the need of authorization for certain planetary defence technologies;

(iii) A draft agreement by the potentially affected State(s) and the State(s) capable and willing to conduct the mission

1.3. Modalities for the cooperation among States participating in the mission, as well as liability considerations, such as a limitation or a waiver of liability for States conducting the mission and modalities for the compensation of victims on the ground or for other damage suffered as a result of the mission;

1.4. The investigation of the legal instruments and/or mechanisms (at the international and possibly national levels) to serve the implementation of the report’s recommendations and to foster better coordination among states. e.g.: a UNGA resolution calling for a strengthened cooperation among States on NEO threat issues, an international (intergovernmental) institutional mechanism, etc.

2)  New research topics related to Planetary Defence research, such as:

2.1. A legal approach to classifying and defining various categories of celestial bodies;

2.2. Reflection on agreements among national or international/regional planetary defence actors (i.e. AIDA (Artificial Intelligence for Data Analysis) project, ESA’s Hera mission and NASA’s DART mission

2.3. The possible relation between legal aspects of planetary defence and legal aspects of space mining/space resource utilization activities;

2.4. The study of Art. IX of the OST in relations to Planetary Defense activities

“If a State Party to the Treaty has reason to believe that an activity or experiment planned by it or its nationals in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, would cause potentially harmful interference with activities of other States Parties in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, it shall undertake appropriate international consultations before proceeding with any such activity or experiment.” (from OST, Art. IX)

[1] For available presentations, delivered at the meeting, see (15th SMPAG meeting)

[2]  For available presentations, delivered at the meeting, see (15th SMPAG meeting)

[3] The latest version of this “living document” is available at (Reference SMPAG-PL-001/2.0)