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Asteroid Hunters Worried About NASA’s NEOCam Launch

First Posted: Jan 16, 2017 02:58 AM EST
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NASA's Discovery Program recently announced that two new missions will fly by eight asteroids after they are launched in the 2020s. However, a more difficult news comes for the program's competitors, among them the NEOCam, an asteroid-hunting mission that did not make the cut but will continue to receive additional funding for next year.

NEOCam, or the Near-Earth Object Camera, was made to search for asteroids in infrared wavelengths at the L1 point, which is a stable, gravitational region between the Earth and the Sun. Space.com noted that the B612 Foundation, a nonprofit organization, focused on protecting Earth against dangerous asteroids and also noted that it was disappointed that the mission was not chosen.

In a statement, the foundation said, "We urge the new administration to direct NASA or another involved agency to fund an asteroid-hunting infrared space telescope through an open solicitation rather than a science mission competition (e.g. Discovery), since the primary purpose would be for planetary defense and space development."

B612's claims have roots. In 2005, NASA was directed by congress to find asteroids that are at least 140 meters in diameter by the year 2020, and the agency is already said to be behind on the search. NEOCam was supposed to be able to find two thirds of this asteroid population within four years from its launch. Still, not all is lost as B612 is said to be working on a separate asteroid-hunting telescope, called Sentinel.

The Sentinel is supposed to orbit the Sun in the same orbit as Venus. Also, the telescope should be able to locate objects as small as 40 meters in size, although this is still about the same size as the one that flattened a Siberian forest in 1908.

Meanwhile, NASA itself is already looking for similar asteroids through its own Near-Earth Object program called NEOWISE, which is expected to finish its own operations later this year, when its orbit brings it to an area with too much sunlight for such surveys and observations.

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