A NASA telescope that will hunt for potential threats to Earth has been approved to move ahead into preliminary design.
The Near-Earth Object Surveyor space telescope (NEO Surveyor) project was initiated to identify hazardous asteroids and comets that come within 30 million miles of Earth’s orbit, which are collectively referred to as near-earth objects (NEOs).
Earlier this month, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced that the NEO Surveyor telescope had successfully passed its mission review. The telescope will now begin a preliminary design phase known as Key Decision Point-B. The launch of the NEO Surveyor telescope is currently slated for the first half of 2026.
Once launched, the NEO Surveyor telescope is expected to identify 90 percent of NEOs 140 meters in size or larger within a decade of being launched.
Currently, astronomers around the world utilise ground-based telescopes to discover new NEOs. However, this approach can only be undertaken at night making it impossible to identify NEOs approaching closer to the direction of the sun. The NEO Surveyor telescope will fill that gap in coverage.
“By searching for NEOs closer to the direction of the Sun, NEO Surveyor would help astronomers discover impact hazards that could approach Earth from the daytime sky,” said Amy Mainzer, survey director for NEO Surveyor at the University of Arizona.
The NEO Surveyor mission is the latest in a several-decade-long push to identify potential threats to life on Earth.
In 2010, NASA achieved a goal of identifying 90 percent of NEOs larger than 1,000 meters. The NEO Surveyor is the final phase in achieving a goal set out in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Act of 2005 that directed NASA to identify 90% of NEOs 140 meters or larger.