Version 2.0, 13 Sep 2019

This document constitutes the Terms of Reference (ToR) for the Space Mission Planning Advisory Group (SMPAG) and establishes the basic principles related to its function.

The establishment of the SMPAG was recommended by the Working Group on Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN COPUOS) during its fiftieth session, held  in February 2013, and formally endorsed by the Committee at its fifty-sixth session in June 2013 and by the sixty-eighth session of the General Assembly in December 2013.  

1. Purpose

The purpose of the SMPAG is to prepare for an international response to a NEO impact threat through the exchange of information, development of options for collaborative research and mission opportunities, and NEO threat mitigation planning activities.

2. Rationale

As presented in the reports of the Action Team 14 on NEOs (A/AC.105/L.329 and L.330), the threat of an asteroid or comet impact is a real and global issue demanding an international response. Addressing such a hazard, including the identification of those objects that pose a threat of impact and planning a corresponding mitigation campaign, will require cooperative action in the interest of public safety on the part of the global community. United Nations Member States, especially those with capabilities to engage in a possible planetary defense[1] mission, already share a number of common interests in NEO threat identification and mitigation.

The objectives of SMPAG are to develop cooperative activities among its members and to build consensus on recommendations for planetary defense measures.  In the event of a credible impact warning by the International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN), the SMPAG would propose mitigation options and implementation plans for consideration by the international community.

3. Scope

The SMPAG may address the following main areas:

1)    Reference missions, technology roadmaps and collaborative research

a.    Recommend and promote research required for planetary defense. Such investigations can be addressed for example through ground and space-based NEO observations and characterisation, computer simulations, laboratory research, technology development, and space missions.

b.    Develop and agree to a set of reference missions addressing a variety of potential NEO impact scenarios and deflection/disruption possibilities, including evaluations of various scenarios. These reference missions will facilitate realistic technical and resource planning.

c.     Evaluate the technical maturity and consequences, including failure, of space-based NEO mitigation techniques.

d.    Recommend, in collaboration with the IAWN, criteria and thresholds for action (e.g., notification of a significant impact risk, initiation of observation and/or mitigation campaigns).Recommend criteria for deflection targeting, such as a minimum acceptable Earth-miss distance.

e.    Develop decision and event timelines for a variety of potential Earth impactors and trajectories identified in the applicable reference missions.

2)    Communication and exchange of information

a.    Identify opportunities for international collaboration on research, technologies and techniques for space-based NEO mitigation. This will help avoid costly duplication of effort, and speed the development of effective  capabilities.

b.    Keep Members informed about relevant national activities for planetary defense.

c.     Communicate its activities to the public following the rules defined in section 8 below.

d.    Offer a yearly briefing to the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of UN COPUOS on the status of these activities.

3)    Legal and policy aspects

Identify for possible detailed review within appropriate forums any legal and policy issues (e.g., liabilities) that may arise in undertaking NEO mitigation actions or selecting any likely mitigation options.

4)    Mitigation planning activities

a.    Recommend operational responsibilities for a space-based NEO mitigation campaign.

b.    Work in coordination with the relevant actors potentially involved in the implementation of the threat response.

c.     In case of a credible threat, recommend viable concepts for a possible mitigation campaign and directly inform those governments that would coordinate and fund space mission activities and request that they in turn inform UN COPUOS, via the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs if necessary.

Any specific cooperative activities endorsed by the SMPAG will be implemented through arrangements negotiated among Members, pursuant to their applicable legal requirements and instruments. Members are encouraged to exchange data resulting from their planetary defense programs, as appropriate and consistent with their applicable legal requirements and instruments.

4. Membership

Membership is open to all national space agencies or governmental or inter-governmental entities that coordinate and fund space activities and are capable of contributing to or carrying out a space-based NEO mitigation campaign.

In the absence of a national space agency, a State Member of the United Nations  may designate another space-related entity as its representative  that has been endorsed by that government's internal processes.

New Members may be included upon consensus of the current Members of the SMPAG.

Any Member may  withdraw its membership at any time.

Members may invite supporting expertise from other organizations, entities, or government agencies by including those experts in their delegation.

IAWN is an ex-officio Member of the SMPAG. IAWN membership should reflect the three components of IAWN: i) search-and-characterization of NEOs, ii) emergency management, and iii) communications with the media and general public.

5. Organizational structure

The SMPAG consists of a plenary group of delegates nominated by its Members, guided by a Steering Committee with a rotating Chair. Working Groups can be established by the Steering Committee as needed.

6. Steering Committee

The Steering Committee guides the activities of the SMPAG, namely:

-       Organizes the overall SMPAG activities.

-       Revises the SMPAG ToR.

-       Establishes and coordinates the Working Groups' activities (determines the scope of activity and objectives of each Working Group, appoints a Chairperson of each Working Group, monitors Working Groups' activities, decides action items and assigns them to Working Groups, determines when an action item is closed).

-       Defines new areas of the SMPAG activity.

-       Represents the SMPAG to other organizations.

-       Determines appropriate public release of SMPAG data, findings, and reports.

Each Member will designate one delegate to the Steering Committee.

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.

Decisions by the Steering Committee, other than the confirmation of the Chair, will be made by consensus.  Minority positions, if offered in writing, will be documented.

7. Meetings

Meetings of the SMPAG will be hosted by and rotate between Members of the SMPAG.

The frequency and schedule of SMPAG meetings will be established by the Steering Committee, and will be held at least once per year, preferably coinciding with other international space-related meetings.

The host of each meeting will act as organizing co-Chair of the meeting. The host will be responsible for coordinating with the SMPAG Chair the dates, location, and agenda of the meetings, and drafting and distributing the minutes of these meetings.

General meeting arrangements and associated meeting expenses will be borne by the hosting Member.

Each Member will be responsible for the travel and subsistence of its representatives attending the SMPAG meetings.

8. Release of SMPAG Data, Findings, and Reports

The activities of the SMPAG are designed to promote and to improve planetary defense capabilities.  Data, findings, and reports of special interest will be released to the public after approval by the Steering Committee.

Release of such information may be accomplished via the SMPAG web site, papers prepared for scientific journals or conferences, via the news media, or other means.

9. Terms and Conditions

These ToR demonstrate the mutual interest of the Members of the SMPAG to exchange information on planetary defense and to develop recommended responses. These ToR do not establish any obligation or legal requirement to do so, nor do they establish any obligation to conduct any particular cooperative activity. Each Member shall provide its own funding and resources for its activities. These ToR may be modified or terminated by consensus of the Steering Committee.  


[1] The term "planetary defense" refers to activities and actions to predict and mitigate a potential impact by an asteroid or comet on the Earth.