A constellation of SmallSats with synthetic tracking cameras to search for 90% of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology 4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena, CA 91109-8099, USA
Received: 29 September 2016
Accepted: 31 March 2017
We present a new space mission concept that is capable of finding, detecting, and tracking 90% of near-Earth objects (NEO) with H magnitude of H ≤ 22 (i.e., ~140 m in size) that are potentially hazardous to the Earth. The new mission concept relies on two emerging technologies: the technique of synthetic tracking and the new generation of small and capable interplanetary spacecraft. Synthetic tracking is a technique that de-streaks asteroid images by taking multiple fast exposures. With synthetic tracking, an 800 s observation with a 10 cm telescope in space can detect a moving object with apparent magnitude of 20.5 without losing sensitivity from streaking. We refer to NEOs with a minimum orbit intersection distance of <0.002 au as Earth-grazers (EGs), representing typical albedo distributions. We show that a constellation of six SmallSats (comparable in size to 9U CubeSats) equipped with 10 cm synthetic tracking cameras and evenly-distributed in 1.0 au heliocentric orbit could detect 90% of EGs with H ≤ 22 mag in ~3.8 yr of observing time. A more advanced constellation of nine 20 cm telescopes could detect 90% of H = 24.2 mag (i.e., ~ 50 m in size) EGs in less than 5 yr.
Key words: astrometry / techniques: image processing / minor planets, asteroids: general / space vehicles: instruments / methods: data analysis / methods: observational
© ESO, 2017