Asteroid tracking sensor passes critical design test

Shane McGlaun - Apr 16, 2013, 5:15am CDT
Asteroid tracking sensor passes critical design test

A NASA funded project designed to create a sensor for tracking asteroids has passed a key design test. The test was designed to assess the performance of the Near Earth Object Camera (NEOCam) in an environment mimicking the temperatures and pressure of deep space. The NEOCam is a key instrument that will be used in a proposed space-based asteroid-hunting telescope.

NASA believes that this sensor will be a vital component in its efforts to identify, capture, and relocate an asteroid closer to Earth for exploration by astronauts. NASA previously announced its plans to capture an asteroid and place in orbit around the moon. NASA wants to capture that asteroid and send astronauts to investigate by 2021.

NASA describes a near-Earth object as either an asteroid or comet with an orbit that brings it within 28,000,000 miles of the Earth as it orbits the sun. NASA says the problem with discovering and identifying these near Earth objects is that a small, light-colored space rock can look the same as a big, dark one. This is the reason why NASA says data collected using optical telescopes relying on visible light can be deceiving.

This is where infrared sensors come in, when space rocks are observed in infrared you see thermal emissions that are able to better define the size of an asteroid and tell you something about the composition of rock. NASA’s proposed plans for the sensor are to place it inside of a space-based telescope that would be located about four times the distance between Earth and Moon away from our planet.

[via NASA]

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