NASA’s new satellite, which will be able to warn the space agency over potentially dangerous asteroids and comets, has taken a leap forward.
The satellite will be able to “accelerate” the rate at which the space agency is able to discover rocks in space that could harm our planet.
NASA approved the Near-Earth Object (NEO) Surveyor space telescope to move into “preliminary design”, the next phase of development.
The asteroid-hunting satellite is planned to lift off in 2026, officials announced earlier this month.
Mike Kelley, NEO Surveyor program scientist explained how important the project is.
He said: “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% of asteroids 140 meters [460 feet] in size or larger within a decade of being launched.”
The agency has been working towards the 90% target since 2005.
It estimates that scientists have found around 40% of NEOs at least 460 feet wide which would cause widespread devastation if they hit our planet.
Boffins believe a rock would need to be at least 0.6 miles or 1kilometere wide to threaten human civilization.
More than 90% of mountain-size NEOs have been found, NASA says.
But none have yet posed a risk for the existence of Earth.
NEO Surveyor will launch to an area in space that is around 930,000 miles from Earth.
The satellite will then use a 1.6-foot wide telescope and sensors to hunt for potentially dangerous asteroids and comets by using infrared light.
Infrared light allows researchers to find huge numbers of objects hurling towards or near Earth that may be difficult for optical instruments.
Amy Mainzer, NEO Surveyor principal investigator based at the University of Arizona, said: “By searching for NEOs closer to the direction of the sun, NEO Surveyor would help astronomers discover impact hazards that could approach Earth from the daytime sky.
“NEO Surveyor would also significantly enhance NASA’s ability to determine the specific sizes and characteristics of newly discovered NEOs by using infrared light, complementing ongoing observations being conducted by ground-based observatories and radar.”
Want all the latest shocking news and views from all over the world straight into your inbox?
We’ve got the best royal scoops, crime dramas and breaking stories – all delivered in that Daily Star style you love.
Our great newsletters will give you all you need to know, from hard news to that bit of glamour you need every day. They’ll drop straight into your inbox and you can unsubscribe whenever you like.
You can sign up here – you won’t regret it…
The NEO surveyor will cost between $500m (£360m) and $600m (£434m), with NASA using funds from the planetary defence program.
The program will also fun another mission, Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), set o launch in November this year.DART will slam a probe into a moon of the asteroid Didymos in a test of the “kinetic impactor” strategy of NEO deflection.