A recent close encounter with an asteroid highlights a blind spot in our ability to predict those that could cause damage. NASA has prioritized detecting larger asteroids, but smaller ones in the 5-50 meter range are difficult to detect until they come closer to Earth. This poses a problem in efforts to prepare for an asteroid impact on a populated area. Current capabilities only allow for detection days prior to impact, and relying on statistical probabilities is considered an unnecessary risk.
To address this issue, NASA is developing the $1.2 billion NEO Surveyor telescope, which will launch nearly a million miles from Earth and surveil a wide field of asteroids. This new telescope will significantly improve NASA’s ability to detect asteroids, allowing them to meet the goal assigned by Congress in 2005 to detect 90% of the total expected amount of asteroids larger than 140 meters.
The importance of asteroid detection was further emphasized by last year’s successful demonstration of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), which confirmed a method of planetary defense. NEO Surveyor is crucial in protecting the Earth, and its 2023 budget should not be reduced or delayed for higher-priority missions.