As part of this, it has expanded its coordination facilities serving as the central hub for the Agency’s asteroid data and analysis efforts. These are located in Frascati, outside Rome, and will be ESA’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Centre (NEOCC).
“Our new NEOCC and its activities are an important tool of international cooperation, reflecting the global character of the dangers we all face due to asteroids,” said ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher.
“ESA’s Planetary Defence Office is in regular close contact with all major organisations monitoring asteroid risk, from NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office and their Center for NEO studies, to the UN-endorsed committees that help coordinate the global effort.”
The office currently consists of 15 people, half of whom work at the NEOCC, and the remainder at other ESA establishments including ESTEC in the Netherlands, ESOC in Germany and ESAC in Spain.
The ESA adopted a renewed ‘Space Safety’ programme in 2019 and this has involved building a new, state-of-the-art telescope. Called Flyeye, the first of which is now being assembled and integrated at a factory in Milan, it is an automated telescope for nightly sky surveys.
The ESA says this telescope is the first in a future network that would completely scan the sky and automatically identify possible new near-Earth objects, or NEOs, for follow up and later checking by human researchers.
“The Planetary Defence Office is also performing technical management of the recently initiated activities on space safety within the European Union,” added Aschbacher. “Our activities are part of a worldwide community effort, and the NEOCC shows that Europe and ESA in particular can bring something substantial and indispensable to the table.”
ESRIN, known as the ESA Centre for Earth Observation, is one of the five ESA specialised centres situated in Europe. It was established in 1966 and first began acquiring data from environmental satellites in the 1970s.
It acts as an interface between ESA and those who use its services. The centre has links with European industry, the European Union and the civil protection, agriculture and environment ministries within ESA Member States. It also cooperates with international organisations including UN agencies and the European Commission.
“With the inauguration of a NEO Coordination Centre in ESRIN, an important milestone has been achieved,” said Giorgio Saccoccia, President of the Italian Space Agency (ASI).
“Planetary Defence is a priority for Italy, as witnessed also by the participation to the first asteroid deflection experiment through the DART, LICIACube and Hera missions. Our Country supports since the very beginning the ESA programmes devoted to space safety as an opportunity to give value to the worldwide expertise of the Italian scientific community working on the asteroid hazard.”
Since 2004, ESRIN has been the headquarters for ESA’s Earth Observation activities. Dr Aschbacher, the Head of ESRIN, is also the Director of Earth Observation.
Pictured above are the relative sizes of possible target asteroids and other known asteroids.
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