IAWN & SMPAG Open Forum

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(image credit UN OOSA)


On February 18, 2016 IAWN and SMPAG held an Open Forum associated with the 53rd session of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space Science and Technical Subcommittee. The primary purpose of the forum was to provide the community with information on current and worldwide NEO efforts, and also to help stimulate interest to allow for broader, worldwide support for detecting, tracking, warning and mitigating a possible future NEO impact.

Lindley Johnson, NASA’s Planetary Defense Officer, began with some background, as well as introductions.

The first speaker was Rob Landis also from NASA’s PDCO, who provided some history of the formation of IAWN, the charter, and current status of some of the programs.  His presentation is here.

Tim Spahr, a specialist in groundbased observing and orbit computation, presented slides on current worldwide survey efforts, and some discussion of the orbit computation process.  His presentation listed some areas in which worldwide observers might contribute to IAWN.  This presentation is here.

Detlef Koschny of the European Space Agency presented the status of several efforts underway.  These include initial construction of a 1-m ‘fly-eye’ telescope capable of surveying the entire sky every few nights and an update the NEODyS-2 program which computes orbits and impact probabilities for all NEOs.  ESA is also interfacing with local agencies in disaster preparedness in the unlikely event of an impact in the area.  Detlef’s full presentation is located here.

Linda Billings, from the National Institute of Aerospace and currently a consultant with NASA’s PDCO presented and discussed communication efforts, as well as challenges, surrounding NEOs and potential impacts.   Linda stressed clear and precise communication, and using existing well-functioning communication models currently in place for other areas such as the World Health Organization’s outbreak communication guidelines.  Her entire presentation is here.

Claus Madsen of the European Southern Observatory presented on ESO’s ability to observe very faint asteroids with the large telescopes at their disposal.  In the presentation here , Claus shows some of the images of faint NEO recoveries and also lists the number of objects where ESO observations have removed any possibility of future impact.

Gerhard Drolshagen, also of ESA, presented a discussion of  Space Mission Planning Advisory Group functions and listed the current entities with membership in the Group.   Gerhard also presented on several space missions, some operating and some in planning stages, that will help our current understanding of science and technology requirements for future asteroid deflection.


2015 a record year for NEO discovery

2015 ended with the highest NEO yearly discovery total (1560) in history!  Congratulations to all the discovery and follow-up teams on this accomplishment.

The IAU’s Minor Planet Center maintains this page (updated daily) that tracks the number of discoveries by individual surveys.   A quick glance shows most discoveries, as been the norm for the past decade, are made by a few of the large NASA-funded surveys.  (for graphical information on historical discovery rates and a deeper dive into the subject, look here.)

Below is a snapshot of the MPC’s ‘yearly breakdown’ page, as well as a bar chart showing the same information:


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The MPC’s Yearly Breakdown of NEO discoveries for 2015

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On the lefthand side of the table is the MPC-assigned  observatory code.  Observatory codes give the precise latitude, longitude, and elevation for each telescope location; this information is necessary for precise orbital calculations.  The main discovery stations are as follows:  Pan-STARRS (F51)Catalina Sky Survey (703); NEOWISE (C51); Mount Lemmon Survey (G96); LINEAR/Space Surveillance Telescope (G45) and lastly DECam NEO Survey (W84).

In order to compute precise orbits for minor planets, positional measurements (called astrometry) are required in the days, weeks and months post-discovery.  This astrometric follow-up is just as important as the discovery observations.  Without these, most new NEOs would be lost or have arcs too short to compute the orbits well enough to evaluate the possibility of impacts with the Earth in the future.  Thankfully there is a dedicated group of follow-up astrometrists–many of them from the amateur observing community–to provide critical data.  Below are several key follow-up stations around the globe; for a full listing of others check the MPC’s follow-up statistics page here.

H21 & 807–Astronomical Research Institute.  Operated by Robert Holmes, this used to be an amateur organization and is now funded by NASA.  The team uses telescopes in northern Illinois and also Chile.

291–Spacewatch.  Operated by Robert McMillan and team at the University of Arizona.  Spacewatch was the pioneer in digital discovery and astrometry of minor planets in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  The 1.8-meter follow-up telescope is now among the world’s best at observing faint NEO targets.

926–Tenagra Observatories.  Operated by Michael Schwartz and Paolo Holvorcem.  Another amateur-turned-professional follow-up team that is now funded by NASA.  The telescopes are operated from Patagonia, Arizona.


Scanning further down this list shows many observatories scattered around the globe making useful contributions to follow-up, including two teams in Italy (160 Castlemartini and 204 Schiaparelli);  one in Arkansas in the US (H45, Arkansas Sky);  England (J95, Great Shefford).  Please note that many of the professional survey teams provide a large volume of follow-up observations as well.

A future posting will provide more detail on the work of these follow-up stations, with an eye on how others might join in contributing to worldwide astrometric follow-up efforts.


Statement of Intent

The IAWN Steering Committee invites nations, space agencies, institutions, and organizations to lend their respective capabilities (e.g., survey telescope operations; follow-up observations; orbit computation; hazard analysis; data distribution, processing, and/or archiving, as well as other analyses and infrastructure contributions) to participate in the IAWN. As a condition of this participation, partners shall accept the existing set of coordination roles amongst the various existing NEO network facilities and agree to a policy of free and open communication.

To date, the United States and the Italian Near-Earth Objects Dynamic Site (NEODyS) have indicated their respective roles and capabilities to the IAWN.

The statement of intent document can be found here.

Capabilities of signatories

Third Meeting of the Steering Committee

On 8 November 2015, the third meeting of the International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN) Steering Committee was held at National Harbor, Maryland (near Washington, DC). The agenda is available here.

The presentations prepared for this meeting are available below:

NASA’s NEO Program – Status
Lindley Johnson (NASA Headquarters)

MPC Status and Survey Update
Matt Holman (MPC)

ESA SSA Status
Detlef Koschny (ESTEC)

IAWN Status
Rob Landis (NASA Headquarters)

Real-time Characterization of Hazardous Asteroids: Lessons from Recent Flybys
Vishnu Reddy (PSI)

NEOWISE Update; NEOCam in Phase A
Amy Mainzer (JPL)

Communication Planning, One Year Later: Time for Action

Linda Billings (Nat’l Inst. of Aerospace/NASA Headquaters)

Words matter: A call for responsible communication about asteroid
impact hazards and plans for planetary defense

Linda Billings (Nat’l Inst. of Aerospace/NASA Headquaters)

Building International Infrastructure for Planetary Defense

Linda Billings (Nat’l Inst. of Aerospace/NASA Headquaters)
Sergio Camacho (UNCOPUOS)

Second Meeting of the Steering Committee

On November 11, 2014, the second meeting of the International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN) Steering Committee took place in Tucson, AZ, coinciding with the week-long American Astronomical Society’s Division of Planetary Sciences meeting. The agenda is available here.

The presentations prepared for this meeting are available below:

First Communications Workshop

Workshop on Communicating about Asteroid Impact Warnings and Mitigation Plans

In September 2014, Secure World Foundation hosted a two-day workshop on communication about Near-Earth Object (NEO) hazards and impact mitigation. The workshop was organized at the request and for the benefit of the International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN).

The workshop brought together a diverse group of experts from the NEO science, risk communication, policy, and emergency management communities to provide communication guidance and advice to managers and directors of IAWN member programs and institutions.

A report was prepared for IAWN and a PDF copy can be downloaded here. The report captures key findings and recommendations derived from the workshop, and also includes an executive summary and a full list of participants.

The case studies prepared for the workshop and discussed in the report are available below:

Participants at the First IAWN Communications Workshop

  • Linda Billings (NASA/NAI), Organiser
  • Laura Delgado López (SWF), Co-organiser
  • Sergio Camacho (CRECTEALC)
  • Amber Charlesworth (US Department of State)
  • Maryanne Culpepper (formerly National Geographic TV)
  • Leonard David (Space journalist)
  • Gerhard Drolshagen (ESA)
  • José Luis Galache (Minor Planet Center)
  • Doug Isbell (NASA JPL)
  • Lindley Johnson (NASA)
  • Leviticus A. Lewis (FEMA)
  • Susanna Priest (University of Washington)
  • Cheryl Reed (Johns Hopkins University – Applied Physics Laboratory)
  • Michael Simpson (SWF)

First Meeting of the Steering Committee

Final Agenda and Presentation Slides

Available here

Findings of the First Meeting of the Steering Committee

On 13 and 14 January 2014, the first meeting of the International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN) Steering Committee was hosted by the Minor Planet Center (MPC), at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The core membership of the ad hoc Steering Committee, organized for this initial meeting, includes individuals and institutions from Russia (Institute of Astronomy/ Russian Academy of Sciences (INASAN)§, France (French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS)), United States (National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the MPC), Germany (German Aerospace Center (DLR)), the European Space Agency (ESA) and its Space Situational Awareness program; the Netherlands Institute for Space Research (SRON)§§, Italy (INAF-IAPS and the Near-Earth Objects Dynamic Site (NEODyS) at the University of Pisa), as well as the International Astronomical Union (IAU).

The General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) has long agreed that an international response is necessary to coordinate and develop mitigation measures to address the near-Earth object (NEO) impact threat. Mitigation includes detection, follow-up, and characterization of NEO impact threats as well as the development of possible deflection techniques. Last year, at the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) meeting in Vienna, the initial plans for an international response were contained in the recommendations of the Working Group on NEOs. These plans, which included the establishment of the IAWN, were adopted as an outcome of the 50th Session of the UN COPUOS Scientific and Technical Subcommittee (STSC) held in Vienna, Austria from 11-22 February 2013.

The Working Group on NEOs, through the multi-year efforts of its Action Team-14, identified three (3) primary components of threat mitigation:

  1. discovery of hazardous asteroids and comets and the identification of those objects requiring action (which the IAWN would do);
  2. planning for a mitigation campaign for an impactor that includes deflection and/or disruption actions as well as civil defense activities (the Space Mission Planning Advisory Group (SMPAG) by member states with their respective space agencies);
  3. implementation of that mitigation campaign if the threat warrants action.

As a first step, Action Team-14 (AT-14) recommended the establishment of the IAWN by continuing to link together the institutions that are already performing many of the necessary functions including: discovering, monitoring and physically characterizing the potentially hazardous NEO population; maintaining an international authoritative clearing house for the receipt, acknowledgment and processing of all NEO observations; recommending policies regarding criteria and thresholds for notification of an emerging impact threat; and developing a strategy using well-defined communication plans and protocols to assist Governments in the analysis of impact consequences and in the planning of mitigation responses.

This initial meeting of the IAWN Steering Committee was an opportunity to: a.) hear directly from experts engaged in NEO discovery, tracking, and characterization; b.) examine policies regarding threat threshold criteria; c.) provide recommendations for communicating that information to the world’s political leaders and the general population at large.

The first IAWN Steering Committee meeting in Cambridge, MA yielded the following findings:

  1. The IAWN Steering Committee recognizes that it needs to encourage additional participation in the IAWN and expand recruitment of other nations to the effort. These potential partners include, but are not limited to: the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the European Southern Observatory (ESO)**, Canadian Space Agency (CSA), Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), China National Space Administration (CNSA), United Kingdom Space Agency (UK Space Agency), and the French National Centre for Space Studies (CNES)††.
  2. A Statement of Intent should be drafted that provides guidance for the IAWN’s operational principles and acknowledges the participation of each partner to the IAWN. The Statement will: a.) address the goals for the global NEO database and methods (with an agreed-upon set of detection and characterization standards and coordinated observations) within the IAWN, b.) address the goals for communicating information to external audiences, including politicians, policy makers, the emergency management community, and the population at large. The Statement of Intent will also define the basic roles and responsibilities of the IAWN Steering Committee.
  3. The IAWN should seek to enhance NEO discovery and follow-up observations (astrometry, photometry, spectroscopy, etc.) through further international cooperation and coordination, especially in the southern hemisphere. Specifically the IAWN should encourage the use of existing ground-based telescopes for NEO follow-up observations; incorporate existing assets to bridge gaps in global sky coverage; and, identify and facilitate the coordination of existing capabilities of members/entities that could be utilized more effectively (e.g., the Catalina Sky Survey and Pan-STARRS will cooperate in their efforts to increase sky coverage as well as avoid duplication of effort).
  4. Through further international collaboration, the IAWN should seek to accomplish the following goals and objectives: establish an international rapid all-sky search capability that is focused on discovering smaller, imminent impactors (e.g., Chelyabinsk event or larger); develop and operate an effective, space-based NEO infrared survey telescope to significantly accelerate the current NEO discovery rate.
  5. The IAWN Steering Committee should organize a two-day workshop on communication strategies and planning regarding NEO impact hazards. The workshop should focus upon the critical assessment of historical and hypothetical messages, strategies, and plans developed by the NEO community in an effort to improve upon international communications concerning potentially hazardous asteroids and impact risks. Social scientists with expertise in public communication, risk communication, cross-cultural communication, risk perception, emergency preparedness and disaster management should be employed to organize and conduct the workshop. Drawing on theory, research, and experience, these experts can assist IAWN participants to develop public information strategies, plans and protocols relating to potential NEO impacts and their consequences and then, in turn, help implement best practices for effective international NEO communications.

IAWN ad hoc Steering Committee Members

Sergio Camacho (UNCOPUOS/NEO WG Chair) Alan Harris (DLR)*
Lindley Johnson (NASA HQ/NEO PE) Detlef Koschny (ESA/ESTEC)*
Boris Shustov (Institute of Astronomy, RAS) Tim Spahr (MPC)
Giovanni Valsecchi (INAF-IAPS/NEODyS) Karel van der Hucht (SRON/IAU)â€
Patrick Michel (Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur/CNRS)* Don Yeomans (JPL/NASA NEO PO)


Participants and presenters at the First IAWN Steering Committee Meeting

Paul Abell (NASA/JSC) Linda Billings (NASA/NAI) Anh Doan (JPL/OIG)
Dennis Mileti (CU-Boulder) Ron Yarbrough (NASA/OIG) Jennifer Lu(JPL/OIG)
Ray Tolomeo (NASA/OIG) Jason Kessler (NASA HQ/OCT) Richard Binzel (MIT)
Makoto Yoshikawa (JAXA) Herb Viggh (MIT/LL) Vishnu Reddy (PSI)
Eileen Ryan (MRO)* Richard Wainscoat (UofH/IfA) Amy Mainzer (JPL)*
Grant Stokes (MIT/LL) Eric Christensen (UofAz) Vigar Abbasi (CSA)
Robert MacMillan (UofAz)* Dave Ropeik (Harvard) José Luis Galache (MPC)
Ray Williamson (SWF) Scott Stuart (MIT/LL) Rich Sheldon (Willis)
Leonard David (SWF)* Alessondra Springmann (NAIC) Rob Landis (NASA)*
Tim Tawney (NASA HQ/OIIR) Lance Benner (JPL)

The IAWN Steering Committee, Minor Planet Center, and NASA Headquarters gratefully acknowledges and recognizes the IT support provided by the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI); namely, Ricky Guest (NASA ARC/Lockheed-Martin) for his assistance and enabling the remote presence across Europe and the United States.