Day of Action Deep Prep: Planetary Defense

The protection of Earth from hazardous asteroids and comets—planetary defense—is one of the three core enterprises of The Planetary Society. Working through this deep prep session will increase the participant's expertise on the major issues, recent history, and politics driving planetary defense policy in the United States.

Context

NASA's Planetary Defense program has grown from a meager, $4-million-per-year effort in the early 2000s to a $200-million-per-year mature spaceflight program managing dedicated missions today. However, the program maintains a tenuous hold on its newfound resources: it is struggling to secure the funding priority to enable its next flight mission, the asteroid-hunting NEO Surveyor space telescope.

NEO Surveyor — one of our top mission priorities — is strongly recommended by the National Academies and is a relatively low cost mission, estimated to have a total cost of $500 million (less than a fifth of what NASA spends on the SLS each year). While the Biden Administration requested the necessary amount to keep NEO Surveyor on track for a 2026 launch in its FY2022 budget last year, Congress has dragged its feet and not yet approved the funding. We need that growth to sustain continued ground-based observing missions and move forward with this mission.

NASA's Planetary Defense funding history with FY22 projections
NASA's Planetary Defense funding history with FY22 projections In order to launch NEO Surveyor by 2026, the Planetary Defense program needs to grow to at least $200M in FY2022, with modest growth in the following years. The Biden Administration has proposed the money needed, but delays in FY22 congressional appropriations threaten to derail the project timeline.Image: Casey Dreier

Legislation

The House and Senate have both released versions of their FY 2022 appropriations legislation. The House version and the Senate version both provide the requested $197.2M for Planetary Defense. We are six months into fiscal year 2022 and Congress is behind schedule — at the time of writing, the Senate and House appropriations committees are working on a compromise version of their legislation. We urge Congress to (1) pass FY 2022 appropriations, and (2) to fund NASA's planetary defense program at $197.2M.

Additionally, the Senate has passed legislation that directs NASA to pursue the NEO Surveyor mission. Section 2640 of the United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 (S.1260) incorporates (among many items) a broad NASA authorization bill, which directs NASA to "develop and launch space-based infrared survey telescope that is capable of detecting near-Earth objects equal to or greater than 140 meters in diameter".

The Planetary Society supports this language and has worked to incorporate this into the NASA authorization legislation for the past few years. Legislation in the House of Representatives omits NASA altogether and thus does not reflect the same commitment to the mission.

Our goal this year is to remind members of Congress that not passing FY2022 appropriations legislation will delay the deployment of NEO Surveyor — an important disaster awareness resource — and that the Senate and Biden Administration have proposed to move forward with the NEO Surveyor mission.

Background materials for Planetary Society's Planetary Defense positions

About NEO Surveyor

NEO Surveyor is a proposed space-telescope to seek out and characterize potentially hazardous NEOs, and could launch as early as 2026 if funding were provided this year.

    The Double-Asteroid Redirection Test (DART)

    DART is a mission in its final development phase and is scheduled to impact a moonlet of Didymos this October. No advocacy is needed for this mission, but it is important to know the current planetary defense mission at NASA.

    Goals

    After this reading, you should be able to:

    • Clearly explain the concept, importance, and relevance of planetary defense

    • Understand the threat that near-Earth objects pose to Earth, and what can be done to prevent a potential impact in the future

    • Explain the need for the NEO Surveyor mission, and how it would address congressionally-mandated goals for NEO detection

    Day of Action

    The Planetary Society's premier global advocacy event. Held annually in the Spring.