December 8, 2022

The NEO Surveyor Project recently passed the Project’s Key Decision Point C review, and NASA has approved the mission for flight. Launch is no later than June 2028.

Finding Asteroids Before They Find Us

Near-Earth Objects, or NEOs, are asteroids and comets that come close to the Earth. Some of them are potentially hazardous.

The Near-Earth Object Surveyor Mission, or NEO Surveyor, is a NASA mission that is designed to discover and characterize most of the potentially hazardous NEOs. NEO Surveyor, led by Survey Director Prof. Amy Mainzer of UArizona, is a planetary defense mission designed to respond to the objectives of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office by detecting, cataloguing, and characterizing NEOs. In doing so, the NEO Surveyor mission provides critical decision support to NASA and other stakeholders who must assess the risks of NEO impacts to Earth and must identify potential mitigation strategies.

NEO Surveyor is a directed NASA mission and is currently in Phase C (mission implementation).

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is the NASA center responsible for implementation and project management. Other key mission partners include Ball Aerospace, Space Dynamics Laboratory of Utah State University, IPAC/Caltech, Teledyne, and the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP)/University of Colorado Boulder. NASA’s Planetary Missions Program Office at Marshall Space Flight Center provides NEO Surveyor program management. Program oversight is provided by the PDCO, which was established in 2016 to manage the agency‘s ongoing efforts in Planetary Defense.

NEO Surveyor spacecraft, the flight segment of NEO Surveyor (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The University of Arizona has a long history in the discovery and characterization of NEOs. Two ground-based NEO surveys, the SPACEWATCH® project (Kitt Peak National Observatory, Arizona) and the Catalina Sky Survey (Mt. Lemmon Observatory, Arizona) have detected nearly 50% of all known NEOs to date. Extending this capability to outer space, UArizona is home to the NEO Surveyor mission as well as the ongoing NEOWISE mission.  Both are space-based infrared telescopes that detect and characterize near-Earth objects. NEOWISE is a smaller, Earth-orbiting telescope currently in extended mission operations. NEOWISE serves as a key precursor mission for the new NEO Surveyor, which will greatly expand NASA's ability to find Earth-approaching asteroids and comets.

NEO Surveyor will complement the capabilities of NEOWISE and enable NASA to find NEOs much faster. NEO Surveyor’s flight segment is a space-based observatory of the same name. The NEO Surveyor payload contains an infrared telescope operating in two infrared bands, 4-5 microns and 6-10 microns.  With the use of an all-infrared telescope, NEO Surveyor is optimized for the task of finding and characterizing the impact risks posed by potentially hazardous objects, both as individual objects and as populations.