With a mandate from the UN, space agencies from all over the world are about to establish a high-level group to help coordinate global response should a threatening asteroid ever be found heading towards Earth.
Of the more than 600,000 known asteroids in our Solar System, more than 10 000 are classified as near-Earth objects, or NEOs, as their orbits bring them relatively close to our path.
The Space Mission Planning and Advisory Group (SMPAG - pronounced 'same page') was established by Action Team 14, a technical forum with a mandate from the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) to develop a strategy on how to react on a possible asteroid impact threat.
It will coordinate the technological knowhow of agencies to recommend specific efforts related to asteroid threats, including basic research and development, impact mitigation measures and deflection missions.
Detlef Koschny, Head of the NEO Segment in ESA's Space Situational Awareness (SSA) programme office, said that SMPAG will also develop and refine a set of reference missions that could be individually or cooperatively flown to intercept an asteroid , including precursor missions or test and evaluation missions, which they need to fly to prove technology before a real threat arises.
The first-ever meeting will be hosted by ESA on 6-7 February at its operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany, where thirty-plus representatives from 13 agencies, seven government ministries and the UN will share knowledge and the latest research related to impact case studies, and will develop a work plan for the next two years.
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