Number 19: 24/03/2003
A scientific publication by SGF and NEODyS

Special: the results of ESA's call for proposal

An interview with Andrés Gálvez, ESA's representative in charge of following the 6 projects

1) A comment on the final results of this call for missions. Which results have been achieved ?

"Previous work had already pointed at the advantages of observing and studying NEOs from space. It is now clear that this possibility should be regarded as a necessary complement to ground-based observations. The studies have shown that the space option is realistic and that it should be considered seriously in the context of current and future efforts to deal with the NEO threat. They have demonstrated the interest of the proposed scientific investigations, provided feasible technical solutions and explored cost-effective ways to implement them."

2) A final comment on each of the 6 projects. What are the chances for one (or more) of these 6 projects to pass to Phase A and become a real ESA mission?

"Currently a programme providing the necessary level of resources for the immediate development of this missions is lacking, both in ESA and elsewhere.
It is clear to everyone that this is a global threat that should very likely be dealt with as international cooperation venture, possibly involving different space agencies and international organisations. The studies are therefore as building blocks in such context, and hopefully they will be taken as such when a programme is created. The mission concepts that have been assessed are complementary to one another, they all address issues of the outmost importance. Of course, there are scientific priorities, and also technical and financial constraints that will determine which one of them is developed first. In my opinion, as NEOs is threat that can potentially affect everyone and that is easily perceived by the general public, it is important to involve laypeople throughout the project, as much as possible. The importance of public support should not be underestimated."

3) Do you think that any of the technologies developed in these projects may find some further application (for example in other scientific projects or in industrial applications)?

"They will definitely find application in the design of future space missions, and they will indirectly contribute to developments of many other fields. The most obvious example that I can think of is process control. In order keep the operation cost as low as possible these missions will require a high degree of autonomy. Therefore simple and reliable fault-tolerant control software algorithms will be used, that could have many applications both in industry (e.g. automated processing and manufacturing) and everyday life (e.g. transportation)."

4) What was your personal role in this project? Which main difficulties did you meet on your way, collaborating both with scientists and industries?

"I was managing the technical aspects of the study from ESA side, and I tried to provide advise and guidance so that the studies can be as useful as possible in later phases i.e design and development, and more immediately, to help us define ESA's next steps on this subject. I had never worked before which such a large number of specialist of all backgrounds in the context of a single project. Before starting I though that it might be difficult for us to communicate with such a large group and to transmit them our views, and even for them to communicate among themselves. After all everyone has different approaches to each problem and this is of course reflected in the way they work as part of a team. But from the very beginning of the project all these concerns proved to have no basis, everyone had a very open attitude and seemed to understand that the cooperation between different disciplines is essential for the success of project like this one. For me personally, working with them has given me an insight into many NEOs and space mission design related disciplines, and it has also been an interesting experience from the personal point of view, I have certainly enjoyed working with them."

An interview with Giovanni Valsecchi, Director of the SCN

1) What are the scientific objectives of the 6 projects? Can you comment on their importance?

"The missions can be grouped in two sets of three: a first one, consisting essentially of space-based observatories, aimed at physical studies in the IR (the Alenia study) or at discovery (EUNEOS and Earthguard).
IR observations from space have already shown their potential in the past, so they would be an important tool to increase our knowledge of the various sub-populations of NEOs. The possibility of making optical discoveries from a vantage point inside the orbit of the Earth cuts down substantially the time to find a given large fraction of the potentially hazardous objects, even of small size, and solves the problem of discovering objects with orbital geometries not favourable to the discovery from the Earth
The second groups of missions is aimed at in-situ studies, in each case using innovative concepts, in order to obtain the scientific knowledge about the targets that is relevant for the planning of mitigation actions.
In the case of Don Quijote, apart from the gathering of information on the internal properties and of the dynamical state, an actual deflection experiment is planned, in order to test the actual procedure in case it were needed.
ISHTAR uses an innovative radar to obtain detailed information on the interior of a couple of asteroids, to make it possible to understand the best deflection strategies.
SIMONE takes a different approach: since the population we are studying is so numerous, the idea is to use a fleet of small, relatively inexpensive spacecraft to explore a larger number of them, say five. The in situ exploration would be less deep than in the cases of the other two missions, but this would be compensated by the larger number of bodies explored."

2) On behalf of ESA scientists of the Spaceguard Central Node have followed all the six studies; what has been their role?

"Since ESA had never before dealt with NEO mission studies, they have felt that the involvement of SCN people, with their specific experience in this rapidly evolving field, could help the ESA technical people, as well as the industrial and scientific mission teams, in the development of the studies. Thus, each study has been followed also by a member of the SCN, in addition to the ESA personnel that normally has this task."

3) In some cases (Don Quijote, EUNEOS, Earthguard) SCN people were involved also "on the other side", as scientific consultants: what has been the role, in this case? And what would the role of the SCN in case one of these missions were funded?

"In all these cases the SCN people involved have studied how the data would be disseminated to the scientific community. In the cases of EUNEOS and Earthguard, they have studied how the ground-based follow-up work should be ccordinated, to maximize the benefits of the space-based discoveries, while in the case of Don Quijote we have also helped with the target selection."

4) Has the planning of these space based observations contributed to better understand the necessity and the possible results of ground-based observations with current and planned large telescopes and surveys?

"The studies of the discovery missions have shown the superiority of the discoveries from space, especially for some orbital types, like the Atens and the IEOs, and that substantial results can be achieved in reasonably short time. A space based IR observatory would have a great efficiency in enlarging, in a short time, the sample of NEOs for which physical information is available.
The in-situ missions would allow to check, with direct observations, the inferences made starting from the results of ground-based observations, allowing to understand the strengths and the weaknesses of the latter, and helping to plan the deflections of different types of objects."