Findings from SBAG 24, 26–27 January 2021
- SBAG reiterates its support for a space-based near-infrared asteroid survey mission and expresses concern over the delay to KDP-B for NEO Surveyor. NEO Surveyor would greatly accelerate the fulfillment of the George E. Brown Congressional goal of discovering 90% of the near-Earth asteroid (NEA) population larger than 140 meters in size. Past SBAG findings and the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine's report Finding Hazardous Asteroids Using Infrared and Visible Wavelength Telescopes have emphasized the importance of a space-based near-infrared asteroid survey mission. A timely passage through KDP-B would be viewed positively by the community.
- SBAG recommends that NASA support additional asteroid radar observations at other facilities in order to meet a portion of the scientific and planetary defense goals previously accomplished by the Arecibo Observatory. Arecibo was a key facility for near-Earth object science and planetary defense. Illustrative examples of options for additional radar observations are detailed at www.lpi.usra.edu/sbag/documents/SBAG_RadarRecovery_20210305_formattedRTD.pdf.
- SBAG recommends that NASA continue to consult with NSF and/or other relevant agencies about the Arecibo collapse and the process for deciding what happens next with the site in order to ensure that implications for NEO observations are adequately included.
- SBAG applauds the transparent, full-community process conducted by NASA to confirm the targets that will be in scope for New Frontiers 5.
- SBAG urges NASA to clarify in the PDART solicitation (and any other relevant solicitations) that development of software tools to work with Solar System data from the Rubin Observatory are within scope or to add a solicitation specifically for Solar System science using Rubin data. SBAG is concerned that the U.S. small bodies community is not sufficiently prepared for the impending data deluge from the Rubin Observatory, which may make the community less competitive, given that Solar System detections are immediately public. Although the PDART solicitation states, “The Planetary Data Archiving, Restoration, and Tools (PDART) program solicits proposals to . . . develop or validate software tools” and “produce tools that would enable or enhance future scientific investigations”, specific language about preparatory work for Rubin data would increase the community’s confidence in proposing such work.
- SBAG encourages NASA to use resources at its disposal to identify the key science that can be addressed from the 2029 Earth flyby of asteroid Apophis and to also investigate spacecraft and ground-based opportunities to support this event. During the 2029 Earth flyby, Apophis will be a target of opportunity for both planetary science and planetary defense. The recent Apophis T-9 Years Workshop demonstrated the great community interest in this once-per-thousand-year event, and identified the encounter physics as a major area of interest for both the scientific and hazardous asteroid mitigation communities. The SBAG community concludes that the next steps in preparation for this event are focusing activity into a formal Science Definition Team or similar entity, as well as investigating how existing spacecraft and ground-based assets could enhance the science return from this event.
- SBAG encourages NASA to continue exploring potential opportunities for cooperation with other US government agencies (e.g., NSF, Space Force, DoD, etc.) in the development of technologies and the operation of facilities relevant for planetary science, planetary defense, and space situational awareness. Ground-based installations and space-based assets can support a wide variety of investigations and tasks that interest a broad suite of stakeholders. NASA’s past cooperation with other US governmental agencies has provided essential capabilities for planetary science and planetary defense. Such interagency collaboration is urgently needed to address the dramatic reduction of NASA’s planetary radar capabilities due to the unfortunate collapse of the Arecibo telescope and to formulate a mutually beneficial solution that is in the best interest of key stakeholders.
- SBAG appreciates the lengths to which NASA has gone to soften the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the community. Examples of these efforts include, but are not limited to, the flexibility for a period of time to continue to pay salaries of grant participants who could not work because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the “SMD call for COVID Augmentations and Funded Extensions” program element. NASA’s emphasis on support for graduate students, post-docs, non-tenured, and soft-money early-career scientists will likely lessen the extent to which the pandemic causes people to leave the field, and it is welcomed by the community.