In April 2023 the United States released the National Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan for Near-Earth Object Hazards and Planetary Defense (National Planetary Defense Strategy). This NASA strategy responds to the U.S. National Planetary Defense Strategy, and focuses Agency-level activities within NASA, describing existing efforts to survey the Near-Earth Object (NEO) population, assess risks and develop approaches to prevent or mitigate NEO impacts on Earth. It provides guidance to improve current efforts and charts a robust vet realistic path forward for planetary defense activities at NASA
NASA has been engaged in NEO research since 1998. In 2016, NASA formalized its planetary defense efforts with the establishment of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO), under the Planetary Science Division (PSD) in NASA's Science Mission Directorate, to oversee the ongoing NEO research and to coordinate activities with U.S. government agencies and international participants. The PDCO manages the NO Observations Program and coordinates requirements for planetary defense missions, such as the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) and the NEO Surveyor missions.
In 2022, the National Academy of Sciences' Origins, Worlds, and Life: A Decadal Strategy for Planetary Science and Astrobiology 2023-2032 prominently featured a section on planetary defense, noting that NASA's PDCO was “the critical organization to advance U.S. planetary defense capabilities and initiatives in the next decade and beyond.”
Significant progress in NEO detection has been made in recent years and the recently approved NEO
Surveyor mission, designed to improve detection capabilities to greater than 90 percent of NEOs 140m or larger within about a decade of being launched in 2028, will roughly triple our current capability.
Despite this impressive progress, key challenges remain:
- Survey, detection, characterization and assessment: The global community wants a complete NEO survey catalog and sufficient ability to fully characterize NEOs. The ability to assess the risks that NEOs may pose to Earth, and support any mitigation efforts, could be significantly improved by a sufficient set of ground and space-based observations, modeling and prediction capabilities. (NASA Strategic Goals 1 and 2, see table below)
- Mitigation: Technological preparedness would be improved with follow-on reconnaissance and mitigation demonstration missions. (NASA Strategic Goal 3)
- International cooperation: With the expansion of international capabilities related to NEO survey and mitigation, planetary defense is poised to become a global effort. To realize this vision, NASA plans to foster greater international collaboration and engagement. (NASA Strategic Goal 4)
- NASA support for interagency coordination: The National Planetary Defense Strategy recognizes a need for more stable, coordinated planetary defense activities across the United States government. NASA has a key role to play in spearheading this ongoing interagency coordination. (NASA Strategic Goals 5 and 6)
- NASA organization: While the NASA PDCO benefits greatly from the close coordination with planetary science activities by being part of NASA PSD, competing priorities in the Planetary Science portfolio, which currently includes development of several large missions, may limit opportunities for expanding planetary defense activities. However, competition for funding is likely to be an issue regardless of where the program is situated. (NASA Strategic Goal 7)
- Strategic communications: NASA should better integrate and disseminate information regarding NEO survey and mitigation work. (NASA Strategic Goal 8)
In support of the National Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan for Near-Earth Object Hazards and Planetary Defense, NASA developed this NASA Planetary Defense Strategy and Action Plan. It also complements the 2022 National Cislunar Science & Technology Strategy (e.g., Objective 3). The NASA strategy is organized around the paradigm of architecting from the right: envisioning desired end states, identifying key challenges and then developing actions to address them. Embedded within are the six National goals and two additional NASA-specific goals (NASA Strategic Goals 7 and 8).
The NASA strategy provides additional details related to the Agency's planetary defense work and specific actions to be completed by NASA organizations in response to the National Strategy and Action Plan (consistent with the leading/supporting agency roles identified in the National plan).