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Near Earth Object Modelling and Payloads for Protection

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - NEO-MAPP (Near Earth Object Modelling and Payloads for Protection)

Reporting period: 2020-02-01 to 2021-07-31

In recent years, demand has increased for planetary defence, science and resource missions to asteroids.This demand requires major advancements in numerical modelling of asteroid responses to an impact, asteroid dynamics and physical properties as well as space mission payload development, data processing and operational capabilities. Involving scientific and industrial experts, the EU-funded NEO-MAPP project aims to provide significant advances in these areas, while at the same time sustainably increase expertise of European scientists and engineers in both planetary defence efforts and asteroid exploration.

The project will provide, due to its public roots, a high social and environmental impact mainly due to the benefits of impact mitigation, science understanding of asteroids and asteroid mining.

Planetary defence, science or resource missions to asteroids require new advances in numerical modelling, payload development, data processing technology, and operational capabilities.The NEO-MAPP consortium includes scientific c and industrial experts with a solid expertise in asteroid science and space missions and is, therefore, ideally placed to further advance NEO scientific research and technologies. In a multi-disciplinary and synergetic approach, NEO-MAPP incorporates two activities: numerical modelling,
and technology and data processing developments. The objectives are addressed by adopting the Hera mission, under development at ESA, as the “Reference Mission”. The mission scenario is not only highly relevant to the current international and European programmatic context but it addresses general issues of asteroid science and therefore remains generic enough to be transposable to any alternative scenarios.
The NEO-MAPP Reference Mission was defined at the beginning of the project to be the Hera mission, which is under development at ESA for launch in 2024. With the NASA DART mission, Hera will contribute to the first real asteroid deflection test using the kinetic impactor technique. Moreover, since Hera addresses the physical and compositional characterization of a NEO, its related activities within the NEO-MAPP project remain generic enough to be transposable to any alternative scenarios and targets.

In fact, many current results and publications from the project include studies related to the NASA OSIRIS-REx and JAXA Hayabusa2 missions that sampled successfully two NEOs. These two missions, in which some NEO-MAPP members are involved, provided us new data on NEOs, which are then used to develop new numerical models within NEO-MAPP or test current ones in the actual conditions of an asteroid (in particular its low gravity), so that they can be applied to other scenarios and targets, and so that we are best prepared to the coming DART and Hera data. In particular, since the beginning of the project, great advances were achieved in our ability to simulate numerically an hyper-velocity impact on a low-gravity asteroid, with totally new approaches, as well as to model the dynamics of a binary system and its change as a result of an impact, and to develop numerical models of asteroids with different internal structures.

A large effort has then be devoted to the synergy between those modeling works and the other NEO-MAPP activities. This synergy is extremely important not only within each theme (modelling and technology), but also between the two themes, as they are inter-related. The development of such synergies, which is itself a challenging task, is the strength of NEO-MAPP, as it is purposely structured such that it promotes ‘mixing’ of advanced modelling and technological developments, specifically designed for planetary defence applications and adaptable for all future NEO space missions. This led to feeding with numerical model results the instrument designs and synthetic measurements. Regarding instrumentations, advances have been achieved in the development of all considered instruments, some being part of Hera, others being for possible future missions (e.g. seismometer, high frequency radar), and the same applies to the data analysis and interpretation objectives.

Finally, given the high productivity during this period in terms of publications and presentations in international conferences, and also the high general public interest, a great activity in terms of public outreach was performed, resulting in many press releases, interviews and videos for the general public about NEO-MAPP related activities.
NEO-MAPP will bring modelling capabilities well beyond the state-of-the-art, producing major advancements in our understanding of the response of NEOs to a kinetic impact or an Earth encounter, and of their physical and dynamical properties.
NEO-MAPP will also increase the maturity of a few innovative payloads specifically optimized for NEO space missions and devoted to the surface, sub-surface and internal properties of a NEO; parameters that are currently poorly constrained yet of high importance to planetary defence.

In parallel, the NEO-MAPP team will define innovative measurement and data processing strategies, combining multiple payloads, in order to maximize the exploitation of scientific and technical data.
NEO-MAPP will thus provide significant advances in our understanding of NEOs while ensuring the future leadership of European scientists and engineers in both planetary defence and small-body exploration.
The project outcome, especially regarding impact mitigation (but also asteroid mining), responds to a public demand and, therefore, will have a high social and environmental impact.