Report Identifies Priority Planetary Science Missions, Planetary Defense Efforts, and Strategic Investments for the Next Decade

WASHINGTON (National Academies PR) — A new decadal survey from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine identifies scientific priorities and opportunities and makes funding recommendations to maximize the advancement of planetary science, astrobiology, and planetary defense in the next 10 years.

The recommendations by the steering committee for the decadal survey draw on input from the scientific community through the advice of six panels, hundreds of white papers, invited speakers, outreach to advisory groups and professional society conferences, and work with mission-design teams.

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NASA Funds Research into Destroying Incoming Asteroid on Short Notice

Graphic depiction of PI – Terminal Defense for Humanity. (Credits: Philip Lubin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA is funding research into hypervelocity kinetic penetrators that would allow for the destruction of an incoming asteroid on very short notice.

The space agency awarded a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase I grant worth $175,000 to Philip Lubin of the University of California, Santa Barbara for his “Pi — Terminal Defense for Humanity project.

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A Christmas Comet for Solar Orbiter

Frame from a movie captured by the SoloHI instrument on the ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter spacecraft of Comet Leonard on 17-18 December 2021. (Credit: ESA/NASA/NRL/SoloHI)

PARIS (ESA PR) — Comet Leonard, a mass of space dust, rock and ice about a kilometre across is heading for a close pass of the Sun on 3 January, and the ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter spacecraft has been watching its evolution over the last days.

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Airbus will Build ESA’s Ariel Exoplanet Hunting Satellite

Artist impression of ESA’s Ariel exoplanet satellite. (Credit: Airbus)

PARIS (ESA PR) — ESA and Airbus have signed a contract to move forward with the design and construction of the Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey, Ariel, planned for launch in 2029.

Ariel is the third in a trio of dedicated exoplanet missions conceived by ESA focusing on various aspects of this rapidly evolving subject area. It will follow Cheops, which launched in 2019, and Plato, scheduled for launch in 2026.

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Testing Mini-radar to Peer Inside an Asteroid

Juventas CubeSat undergoing tests at ESTEC in The Netherlands. (Credit: ESA-P. de Maagt)

NOORDWIJK, The Netherlands (ESA PR) — A specially upgraded radio-frequency chamber in ESA’s technical heart is testing what is set to become the smallest radar system to be flown in space, hosted aboard a breadbox-sized spacecraft.

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Fizzing Sodium Could Explain Asteroid Phaethon’s Cometlike Activity

This illustration depicts asteroid Phaethon being heated by the Sun. The asteroid’s surface gets so hot that sodium inside Phaethon’s rock may vaporize and vent into space, causing it to brighten like a comet and dislodge small pieces of rocky debris. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/IPAC)

Models and lab tests suggest the asteroid could be venting sodium vapor as it orbits close to the Sun, explaining its increase in brightness.

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — As a comet zooms through the inner solar system, the Sun heats it, causing ices below the surface to vaporize into space. The venting vapor dislodges dust and rock, and the gas creates a bright tail that can extend millions of miles from the nucleus like an ethereal veil.

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The Perseids are on the Rise!

In this 30 second exposure taken with a circular fish-eye lens, a meteor streaks across the sky during the annual Perseid meteor shower on Friday, Aug. 12, 2016 in Spruce Knob, West Virginia. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — It’s time again for one of the biggest meteor showers of the year! The Perseids are already showing up in our night skies—and when they peak in mid-August, it’s likely to be one of our most impressive skywatching opportunities for a while.

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Comet Catalina Suggests Comets Delivered Carbon to Rocky Planets

Illustration of a comet from the Oort Cloud as it passes through the inner solar system with dust and gas evaporating into its tail. SOFIA’s observations of Comet Catalina reveal that it’s carbon-rich, suggesting that comets delivered carbon to the terrestrial planets like Earth and Mars as they formed in the early solar system. (Credits: NASA/SOFIA/Lynette Cook)

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — In early 2016, an icy visitor from the edge of our solar system hurtled past Earth. It briefly became visible to stargazers as Comet Catalina before it slingshot past the Sun to disappear forevermore out of the solar system.

Among the many observatories that captured a view of this comet, which appeared near the Big Dipper, was the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, NASA’s telescope on an airplane. Using one of its unique infrared instruments, SOFIA was able to pick out a familiar fingerprint within the dusty glow of the comet’s tail – carbon.

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Comet Makes a Pit Stop Near Jupiter’s Asteroids

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope snapped this image of the young comet P/2019 LD2 as it orbits near Jupiter’s captured ancient asteroids, which are called Trojans. The Hubble view reveals a 400,000-mile-long tail of dust and gas flowing from the wayward comet’s bright solid nucleus. (Credit: NASA/ESA/J. Olmsted/STScI)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — For the first time, a wayward comet-like object has been spotted near the family of ancient asteroids.

After traveling several billion miles toward the Sun, a wayward young comet-like object orbiting among the giant planets has found a temporary parking place along the way. The object has settled near a family of captured ancient asteroids, called Trojans, that are orbiting the Sun alongside Jupiter. This is the first time a comet-like object has been spotted near the Trojan population.

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French Scientists to Help Analyze Hayabusa2 Asteroid Samples

Fig. 2 Sample container A inside the room (credit: JAXA)

The Japanese Hayabusa-2 mission returned at least 5.4 g of dust from the asteroid Ryugu. That’s 50 times more than expected! These unpublished samples could contain primitive organic molecules that played a role in the emergence of life on Earth.

PARIS (CNES PR) — A fabulous Christmas present! A harvest beyond expectations! A dream come true … Words fail to qualify the extraordinary success of the Hayabusa2 mission which deposited on December 6, 2020, in the Australian desert, a 40 cm diameter capsule containing a treasure: at least 5.4 g material from asteroid Ryugu. 

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European ‘Comet Chaser’ Probe to be Designed in UK

Comet Interceptor (Credit: Thales Alenia Space)

SWINDON, UK (UK Space Agency PR) — Design work will soon begin in the UK on the spacecraft for a new European Space Agency science mission, which will 3D-map a comet for the first time,

Thales Alenia Space, who have three sites in the UK and employ nearly 200 highly skilled engineers and scientists, have won one of two parallel mission study contracts for the design concept of the mothership and a smaller robotic probe for the European Space Agency (ESA) Comet Interceptor mission. Design work is also taking place in Italy.

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OHB Italia and ESA Sign Contract for Comet Interceptor Mission Study

Artistic rendering of the mission Comet Interceptor. (Credit: OHB Italia)

MILANO (OHB PR) — OHB Italia, a subsidiary of the space and technology group OHB SE, signed a contract appointing OHB Italia as one of the two prime contractors performing a study of the Comet Interceptor mission, a new fast-class, deep space mission led by the European Space Agency.

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4.5-bil­lion-year-old Ice on Comet ‘Fluffi­er than Cap­puc­ci­no Froth’

Af­ter sev­en hours of freefall, Philae touched the Ag­ilkia land­ing site (top left out­side the im­age) at walk­ing pace as planned. How­ev­er, Phi­lae could not an­chor it­self be­cause the an­chor har­poons pro­vid­ed for this pur­pose did not ac­ti­vate. Due to the low grav­i­ty, Phi­lae bounced off the sur­face, rose to a height of more than one kilo­me­tre, col­lid­ed with a cliff edge while falling, touched the comet’s sur­face a sec­ond time (TD2) and fi­nal­ly came to a halt af­ter two hours (TD3). The lo­ca­tion of TD2 was un­known un­til re­cent­ly and could on­ly now be re­con­struct­ed. Phi­lae was lo­cat­ed in a place with suf­fi­cient sun­light to pro­duce enough en­er­gy to run its ten ex­per­i­ments for ap­prox­i­mate­ly 60 hours. (Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA)
  • Reconstruction of second surface contact by Rosetta’s Philae lander during unplanned ‘hopping’ in November 2014 before its final ‘touchdown’.
  • The probe, rotating like a windmill, scraped a furrow in a highly porous, dark rocky area made of ice and dust on comet 67P, exposing 4.5-billion-year-old ice.
  • The ice has very weak internal cohesion and a consistency that is fluffier than cappuccino froth.

COLOGNE, Germany (DLR PR) — After years of detective work, scientists working on the European Space Agency (ESA) Rosetta mission have now been able to locate where the Philae lander made its second and penultimate contact with the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 12 November 2014, before finally coming to a halt 30 metres away. This landing was monitored from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) Philae Control Center.

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NASA Johnson Builds Labs to Study New Asteroid Samples, Cosmic Mysteries

A rendering of the new asteroid lab being built at Johnson Space Center. When the samples are returned to Earth in 2023 they will be brought to this lab for curation and initial examination. (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — When the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft touches asteroid Bennu, it will capture NASA’s first sample from an asteroid and provide rare specimens for research that scientists hope will help them shed light on the many mysteries of our solar system’s formation.

The sample is scheduled for return to Earth in 2023 to be examined and stored in state-of-the-art curation facilities now under construction at Johnson Space Center in Houston. The labs will be managed by NASA’s Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science division, also known as ARES. The division is home to the world’s greatest astromaterials collections — including lunar rocks, solar wind particles, meteorites, and comet samples — and some of the experts who research them.

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EU Space Budget Request Slashed

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The European Commission (EC) has slashed its space budget for 2021-27 from a proposed €16 billion ($18.8 billion) to €13.2 billion ($15.1 billion) due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic and the exit of Britain from the European Union (EU).

Under terms worked out last week by EU leaders, the space budget will devote €8 billion ($9.4 billion) on the Galileo satellite navigation system and €4.8 billion ($5.65 billion) to the Copernicus constellation of environmental satellites.

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