NASA won't reach its mandated goal of tracking nearly all potentially hazardous near-Earth asteroids by 2020 with its current funding, according to an interim report published by the US National Research Council last week.
In 2005, the US Congress gave NASA a deadline of 2020 to detect, track and characterize 90% of near-Earth objects bigger than 140 metres. This is the size of objects thought to pose a significant risk if striking in urban areas, and at least twice the size of the object that levelled 2,000 square kilometres of Siberian forest in the 1908 Tunguska explosion.
The report, the final version of which is expected at the end of the year, says that the goal could be reached if more funding is found for future facilities, such as the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope or the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS). It also cites the importance of the large Arecibo radar telescope in Puerto Rico, which is well suited to characterizing asteroids once they are found.
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NASA needs more money to track asteroid threats. Nature 460, 943 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/460943a