Tiny satellite set to hunt asteroids

Canadian scientists are developing a 143-lb microsatellite they say will detect and track asteroids, comets as well as other satellites.

The suitcase-sized Near Earth Object Surveillance Satellite (NEOSSat) includes a 6-inch diameter telescope, smaller than most amateur astronomers’ scopes that by being located 435 miles above the Earth's atmosphere will be able to detect moving asteroids delivering as few as 50 photons of light in a 100-second exposure.

The NEOSSat will twist and turn hundreds of times each day, orbiting from pole to pole every 50 minutes almost always in sunlight.  The telescope has a sunshade that allows searching the sky to within 45° of the Sun, a part of the sky difficult or impossible to observe from the ground, but where near-Earth asteroids are concentrated, researchers said. 

This near-Sun region is also the only part of the sky where asteroids that orbit entirely inside the Earth’s orbit may be discovered.  NEOSSat will survey this little-known population and discover hundreds of other near-Earth asteroids, researchers said.  In addition because of its small size and ability to "piggyback" on the launch of other spacecraft the microsatellite will be inexpensive to launch and operate, researchers said.

The $12M  NEOSSat mission is funded by Defence Research Development Canada and the Canadian Space Agency. Together CSA and DRDC formed a Joint Project Office to manage the NEOSSat design, construction and launch phases.  NEOSSat will send images to the University of Calgary.

NEOSS will be used for two projects: HEOSS (High Earth Orbit Space Surveillance) and the NESS (Near Earth Space Surveillance) asteroid search program. The aim of the HEOSS project is to demonstrate that microsatellites can – in a effective, reliable, and efficient way – help keep track of objects in orbit around Earth.  HEOSS is dedicated to keeping track of objects in mid- to deep-space orbits, objects such as GPS satellites, communication satellites, and weather satellites.

The United States through NASA has funded the most productive asteroid search programs to date, although both amateur and professional planetary scientists in many countries around the globe conduct asteroid searching and follow-on studies, the researchers said.

Earlier this yea in fact, NASA was watching closely a 2,000 foot asteroid that came within  334,000 miles of Earth in January.  While that distance is “close” in space terms, experts weren’t predicting an Armageddon moment.   NASA detects and tracks asteroids and comets passing close to Earth.

The Near Earth Object Observation Program, commonly called "Spaceguard," discovers, characterizes and computes trajectories for these objects to determine if any could be potentially hazardous to our planet.

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