The NEO Surveyor Mission consists of a single scientific instrument: a 50 cm diameter telescope operating at two heat-sensing infrared wavelengths that are capable of detecting even the dark asteroids that are hardest to find.
After launch, the NEO Surveyor will carry out a five-year baseline survey to find at least 2/3 of the near-Earth objects larger than 140 meters. These are the objects large enough to cause major regional damage in the event of an Earth impact. By using two heat-sensitive infrared imaging channels, NEO Surveyor can—and will—make accurate measurements of NEO sizes and gain valuable information about their composition, shapes, rotational states, and orbits. See the complete set of mission requirements.
NEO Surveyor employs an innovative observation strategy to independently discover new asteroids and comets and determine their orbits with enough accuracy to allow them to be found again. NEO Surveyor is designed to find >2/3 of NEOs larger than 140 meters in 5 years, making significant progress toward meeting the U.S. Congress's mandate to NASA to find >90% of all NEOs larger than 140 m in diameter. The >90% number is a mission goal to be achieved in 10-12 years.
Infrared light can be used both to tell temperature and find warm objects that don't reflect much visible light, like asteroids. The visible light image on the left shows light reflecting off the person and the coffee cups, but the infrared image on the right reveals the heat that both emit. Where the infrared light is brighter, the temperature of the person is warmer. Image credit: JPL/Caltech.
Like NASA's WISE mission (which was delivered on cost and on schedule according to the March 2011 GAO report), NEO Surveyor will be built and tested by competitively-selected industrial contractors in order to ensure the lowest cost and highest value to taxpayers. NEO Surveyor's major contractors include Ball Aerospace, Space Dynamics Laboratory (SDL), and Teledyne Imaging Sensors. Led by the Survey Director (SD), NEO Surveyor's three major partners, University of Arizona, JPL, and Caltech/IPAC, will provide project systems engineering, manage the contracts for the spacecraft bus, payload, and science data processing, provide the mission operations system, and provide overall project management. The SD is supported by the NEO Surveyor Investigation Team, who is integrally involved at every stage of NEO Surveyor's development, from requirements definition, design, fabrication, and testing to launch, in-orbit checkout, flight operations, and data analysis, ensuring that the instrument is optimized to meet the mission's survey objectives.