Current funding and technology inadequate - NASA will miss 2020 deadline on mandate
Clark 10 (Stephen, writer, Spaceflight Now, “More Funding Needed to Meet Asteroid Funding Mandate”, January 22nd, 2010, Accessed 7/2/11, AH)
NASA is not doing enough to complete a mandated search for Earth-threatening asteroids and comets because the space agency is not receiving enough money for the problem, according to a National Research Council report. In a report released Friday, scientists said Congress and the administration have not requested or appropriated funding to complete a survey mandated in the NASA Authorization Act of 2005. Called the George E. Brown, Jr., Near-Earth Object Survey, the detection program was tasked with discovering 90 percent of Near-Earth Objects, or NEOs, larger than 140 meters, or 459 feet, by 2020. NEOs of that size would have regional or continental affects if they struck Earth. "You have this conflict between having a very small probability of anything bad happening, versus a terrific impact if there is a bad event," said Irwin Shapiro, chairman of the NEO committee from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Congress asked the National Research Council in 2008 to determine the best way to achieve the George Brown survey. "If there were really a credible threat, money would flow like water, but it may be too late if we don't do anything preparing ahead of time," Shapiro told Spaceflight Now in a Friday interview. NASA currently spends about $4 million per year searching for NEOs, but accomplishing the George Brown survey by the 2020 deadline is now unattainable. "To complete the George Brown survey, you're probably talking about something like $50 million a year, at least to complete it in a reasonable time scale," said Michael A'Hearn, the research committee's vice chairman and an astronomy professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. Knowing where threatening objects are and developing viable mitigation strategies is like buying insurance on your house, Shapiro said. With current technologies, it may take up to a century to find the bulk of the 140-meter class asteroids, according to scientists. "There's no way to do it by 2020 now because there's been no funding for it since it was mandated," A'Hearn said. NASA is close to completing the Spaceguard project, another legislative mandate to find 90 percent of NEOs larger than 1 kilometer, or about 3,300 feet, in diameter. Such objects are large enough to have global affects if they impact Earth. More than 6,700 NEOs have been discovered to date, including more than 800 objects greater than 1 kilometer in size, according to a NASA Web site. A'Hearn said there are no known large objects that pose a credible threat to Earth within the next century, but there are plenty of smaller asteroids that still have not been detected. "If we were to discover one that is about to hit us, we wouldn't know what to do. In that sense, no one is doing enough," A'Hearn said in an interview Friday.
Current funding is insufficient - more funding from Congress is key
Atkinson 10 (Nancy, Senior Editor, universetoday.com, Asteroid Detection, Deflection Needs More Money, Report Says , January 22nd, 2010, accessed 6/29/11, AH)
Are we ready to act if an asteroid or comet were to pose a threat to our planet? No, says a new report from the National Research Council. Plus, we don’t have the resources in place to detect all the possible dangerous objects out there. The report lays out options NASA could follow to detect more near-Earth objects (NEOs) that could potentially cross Earth’s orbit, and says. the $4 million the U.S. spends annually to search for NEOs is insufficient to meet a congressionally mandated requirement to detect NEOs that could threaten Earth “To do what Congress mandated NASA to do is going to take new technology, bigger telescopes with wider fields,” said Don Yeomans, Manager of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program Office, speaking at the American Geophysical Union conference last month. However, Yeomans said work is being done to improve the quality and quantity of the search for potentially dangerous asteroids and comets. “We have a long term goal to have three more 1.8 meter telescopes,” he said, “and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope with an 8.4 meter aperture in 2016. Once these new facilities are in place, the data input will be like drinking from a fire hose, and the rate of warnings will go up by a factor of 40.”. But getting all these facilities, and more, online and running will take continued and additional funding Congress mandated in 2005 that NASA discover 90 percent of NEOs whose diameter is 140 meters or greater by 2020, and asked the National Research Council in 2008 to form a committee to determine the optimum approach to doing so. In an interim report released last year, the committee concluded that it was impossible for NASA to meet that goal, since Congress has not appropriated new funds for the survey nor has the administration asked for them. But this issue isn’t and shouldn’t be strictly left to NASA, said former astronaut Rusty Schweickart, also speaking at the AGU conference. “There’s the geopolitical misconception that NASA is taking care of it,” he said. “They aren’t and this is an international issue.” Schweickart said making decisions on how to mitigate the threat once a space rock already on the way is too late, and that all the decisions of what will be done, and how, need to be made now. “The real issue here is getting international cooperation, so we can — in a coordinated way — decide what to do and act before it is too late,” he said. “If we procrastinate and argue about this, we’ll argue our way past the point of where it too late and we’ll take the hit.” But this report deals with NASA, and committee from the NRC lays out two approaches that would allow NASA to complete its goal soon after the 2020 deadline; the approach chosen would depend on the priority policymakers attach to spotting NEOs. If finishing NASA’s survey as close as possible to the original 2020 deadline is considered most important, a mission using a space-based telescope conducted in concert with observations from a suitable ground-based telescope is the best approach, the report says. If conserving costs is deemed most important, the use of a ground-based telescope only is preferable. The report also recommends that NASA monitor for smaller objects, and recommends that immediate action be taken to ensure the continued operation of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, and support a program at the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex. Although these facilities cannot discover NEOs, they play an important role in accurately determining the orbits and characterizing the properties of NEOs. Schweikart quoted Don Yeomans as saying the three most important things about asteroid mitigation is to find them early, find them early and find them early. “We have the technology today to move an asteroid,” Schweikart said. “We just need time. It doesn’t take a huge spacecraft to do the job of altering an asteroid’s course. It just takes time. And the earlier we could send a spacecraft to either move or hit an asteroid, the less it will cost. We could spend a few hundred million dollars to avoid a $4 billion impact.” But the report put out by the NRC stresses the methods for asteroid/comet defense are new and still immature. The committee agreed that with sufficient warning, a suite of four types of mitigation is adequate to meet the threat from all NEOs, except the most energetic ones.