An artist’s concept of NEO Surveyor in orbit

An artist’s concept of NEO Surveyor in orbit. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Near-Earth Object Surveyor Mission

What is NEO Surveyor?

NASA’s Near-Earth Object Surveyor Mission, or NEO Surveyor, is a new infrared space telescope that will expand NASA's ability to find potentially hazardous Near-Earth Objects (NEOs).

Nation United States of America (USA)
Objective Orbiter to Search for Near-Earth Asteroids (NEOs)
Spacecraft Near-Earth Object Surveyor, or NEO Surveyor
Spacecraft Mass TBD
Mission Design & Management NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO)/ NASA Planetary Science Division/NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center/University of Arizona/JPL/Caltech/IPAC
Launch Vehicle TBD
Launch Date Early 2026
Launch Site Kennedy Space Center, Florida
Scientific Instrument Nearly 20-inch (50-centimeter) diameter telescope that operates in two heat-sensing infrared wavelengths

Firsts

  • First space mission specifically designed for discovering hazardous asteroids and comets

Key Dates

July 11, 2021: NASA approves moving NEO Surveyor into the preliminary design phase

Jan. 2023: Projected date for NEO Surveyor to transition to the next mission phase, which is the final design and fabrication of the spacecraft

Early 2026: Projected launch date

In Depth: NEO Surveyor

NASA’s Near-Earth Object Surveyor Mission, or NEO Surveyor, is a space telescope that will help improve NASA’s planetary defense efforts to discover most of the potentially hazardous asteroids and comets that come within 30 million miles (48 million kilometers) of Earth’s orbit. These objects are collectively known as near-Earth objects, or NEOs. NEO Surveyor is scheduled to launch in early 2026.

No known NEO poses a significant risk of impacting Earth in the next 100 years, but unknown NEOs – like the one in the 2013 Chelyabinsk event in Russia – could present a hazard.

Chelyabinsk Meteor
This image shows the vapor trail of the Chelyabinsk meteor on Feb. 15, 2013. The picture was taken about a minute after the house-sized asteroid streaked through Earth’s atmosphere. Credit: Alex Alishevskikh | More details

NEO Surveyor consists of a single scientific instrument: a nearly 20-inch (50-centimeter) diameter telescope that operates in two heat-sensing infrared wavelengths. It will be capable of detecting both bright and dark asteroids, which are the most difficult type to find.

By using sensors that operate in the infrared, NEO Surveyor will be able to make accurate measurements of NEO sizes and will gain valuable information about their composition, shapes, rotational states, and orbits. The telescope also will help planetary scientists discover NEOs more quickly.

“By searching for NEOs closer to the direction of the Sun, NEO Surveyor will help astronomers discover impact hazards that could approach Earth from the daytime sky,” said Amy Mainzer, survey director for NEO Surveyor at the University of Arizona.

Amy Mainzer
NEO Surveyor survey director Amy Mainzer. Credit: University of Arizona

Mainzer, who is also the principal investigator for NASA’s asteroid-hunting NEOWISE Project, said NEO Surveyor would improve NASA’s ability to determine the size and other characteristics of newly discovered NEOs.

This information is vital to NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO). The PDCO needs to learn about potentially hazardous NEOs as early as possible to either prevent an impact with Earth, or to try to minimize the damage from an impact. (NASA will test one planetary defense deflection technology with its Double Asteroid Redirection Test, DART, mission.)

“NEO Surveyor will have the capability to rapidly accelerate the rate at which NASA is able to discover asteroids and comets that could pose a hazard to the Earth, and it is being designed to discover 90 percent of asteroids 140 meters in size or larger within a decade of being launched,” said Mike Kelley, NEO Surveyor program scientist at NASA Headquarters.

After launch, NEO Surveyor will conduct a five-year baseline survey to find at least two-thirds of the potentially hazardous near-Earth asteroids larger than 460 feet (140 meters). These are the objects large enough to cause major regional damage if they impacted Earth.

Near-Earth asteroid 2016 AJ193
Near-Earth asteroid 2016 AJ193 drifted past Earth in August 2021 at a distance of 2.1 million miles (about 3.4 million kilometers). These images were taken by the Deep Space Network's Goldstone Deep Space Complex near Barstow, California. 2016 AJ193 was the 1,001st asteroid to be observed by planetary radar. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech | Full image and caption

The NEO Surveyor mission is led by the University of Arizona. The spacecraft is being developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). It is managed by NASA’s Planetary Missions Program Office at Marshall Space Flight Center, with program oversight by the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO).

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