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Observing Objects That Can Impact The Earth – How Good Is Europe In Observing Potential Threats

Observing Objects That Can Impact The Earth – How Good Is Europe In Observing Potential Threats?

NASA has their Near-Earth Object Program were they follow 918 potential dangerous asteroids.

Their astronomers observes space objects that are more than one kilometer in diameter and has a probability to become proximal to earth within the next 10 years to come at any given time.

They also keep a track on smaller objects and asteroids that can become a danger in a longer time perspective than 10 years.

Recent observations has lead to calculations that the asteroid Apophis will hit the earth in the period of 2036-2037 has a probability of 0.00002 percent

The newly discovered asteroid called 2007 VK184 will pass the earth in the period of years 2048 to 2057, and has a probability to hit the earth of 0.0003 percent and has a projected path that is four times closer than the Apophis asteroid. VK184 has a diameter of approximately 130 meters and will make a major impact if it hits the earth, but will most likely not make global threat. An impact of an asteroid with a diameter of more than 1 kilometer will make a global danger.

The European ministers for space met in Netherlands in November 2008 and agreed upon to make a European warning system. The long term plans were discussed at this meeting and an exensive program was conluded upon. Details about this program can be seen at ;

http://www.esa.int/esaCP/SEMUPQ4DHNF_index_0.html

The Ministers in charge of space activities within the now 18 ESA Member States and Canada  agreed upon a space program called ESA PR 44-2008 in The Hague in the Netherlands on 25 and 26 November 2008. This endorse the implementation of the European Space Policy, and sat out the start of future programs and made decisions on the next phases of on-going programs.

Point 2 in the European Space program is called the Meeting of Europe’s security needs, which outlines some activities related to near earth object observation.
 
The Space Council highlighted the essential need to develop increased synergies with the security and defense sector and to intensify the dialogue with the relevant institutional actors (the European Commission, the General Secretariat of the Council, the European Defense Agency, ESA and Member States) and incorporate appropriate programmatic activities.

The objective of the Space Situational Awareness (SSA) initiative is to contribute to the protection of European space systems, in particular those related to operational services, against space debris and solar flares (space weather). This will help guarantee the availability of such services by providing timely and quality information on the space environment, threats and the sustainable exploitation of outer space surrounding Earth.

The program proposal will consist of one core element covering governance, data policy, data security, architecture and space surveillance, and three additional optional elements: space weather (monitoring and forecasting effects of radiation, ionospheric perturbation, geomagnetic disturbances and currents induced in large pipeline networks, for instance) and Near Earth Objects surveillance; bread-boarding of radar components in close coordination with the General Support Technology Program (GSTP), see below; and pilot data centers.

However, this program is not specific on near earth object observation, and does not give any clear mandate in this respect either.

Why is it imperative that Europe launches an initiative regarding observation of near earth objects? Is it not enough that USA and NASA observes these things and reports to the rest of the world?
As stated in European space program outlined above, it is a matter of defense security and operational security as well. In addition it is a matter of response time and priorities. What is important to USA, may not be important to Europe and visa versa.

The fact is that on average, once every 1000 years an asteroid of at least 50 meters in size collides with the Earth, causing local devastation or producing tidal waves. Therefore there is a need to assess the risks for any part of society in Europe will be affected and are exposed to a risk of any near earth objects, whether its space debris or asteroids. As seen recently, the collision of two satellites in space creates a discussion whether the debris from this crash will have impact on other installations in orbit around the earth, and will some debris fall down and make impact with earth. In this latter case, will it expose any urban areas for risks, and what type of risks are we talking about?

The matter is, that some debris is bound for Europe and we need an observation and warning system to prepare ourselves for any potential impacts of space debris or objects from space.

 A first step to put near earth object observation on the agenda in Europe is a call for a Planetary Defense Conference, with a strong focus on student participation, which will be held in Europe for the first time during the week of April 27, 2009 in Granada, Spain.  This 1st IAA Planetary Defense Conference: Protecting Earth from Asteroids will bring together worldwide experts to discuss various topics such as;

Detecting and tracking asteroids and comets that might be hazardous to our planet, Characteristics of these objects, Deflecting a threatening object should one be detected, The nature of impact disasters, and  Political, legal and policy issues that must be considered as part of an overall mitigation strategy.

A particular focus will be on Apophis, a 300-meter asteroid that is predicted to pass within 40,000 km of Earth in 2029 and has a current probability of impacting our planet in 2036 of 1 in 45000.

It will be interesting to see what will be presented at the conference, who will attend, and what will be the outcome of the conference.

However, more important, it will be to see how decision makers in the European space environment, both political and technical will embrace ideas and try to implement a strong and lasting Near European Earth Object Observation system, that will enable us to detect, assess risks on various levels in society (defense, industry, civil population, health and emergency protocols), and the ability to perform deflection tactics of objects deemed to be a major risk to earth. The collaboration efforts to threats on a global basis will also be tested as various interests may collide throughout different continents on the earth. In this respect the exchange of data and analytical results will be imperative.

As we have seen the conflict of interest when it comes to the global positioning systems, can maybe be the precursor of challenges we are facing when it comes to collaboration on other space related issues as well. We may live on one planet, and may share the common goal to save and protect our planet, but we may have different tactics to achieve this.

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