United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs

Near-Earth Objects

A near-Earth object (NEO) is an asteroid or comet whose trajectory brings it within 1.3 astronomical units of the Sun and hence within 0.3 astronomical units, or approximately 45 million kilometres, of the Earth's orbit. This includes objects that will come close to the Earth at some point in their future orbital evolution. NEOs generally result from objects that have experienced gravitational perturbations from nearby planets, moving them into orbits that allow them to come near to the Earth.

The issues involved in protecting the Earth from an asteroid impact could be put simply as: (a) finding them, (b) determining the risk of impact, (c) deciding on a course of action in cases where the risk is relatively high and, if a deflection is necessary, (d) implementing a space mission campaign to deflect the asteroid.

These activities involve diverse and complex scenarios that can be best addressed through international cooperation.

In 1999, the Third United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE III) was held in Vienna. One of the recommendations of the Conference was to improve international coordination of activities related to near-Earth objects.

In order to implement that recommendation, in 2001 the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) established the Action Team on Near-Earth Objects (Action Team 14) under the chairmanship of Richard Tremayne-Smith (UK). Sergio Camacho-Lara, a former UNOOSA Director, currently serves as the Chair of AT-14. UNOOSA facilitates the work of the Action Team on Near-Earth Objects.

The Action Team meets throughout the year at NEO-related conferences, on the margins of COPUOS and the Subcommittee meetings, as well as working intersessionally in an informal manner.

The General Assembly approved a multi-year work plan on NEOs, beginning in 2007, that would review progress on international cooperation and collaboration on NEO observations, facilitate, for the purpose of NEO threat detection, a more robust international capability for the exchange, processing, archiving and dissemination of data, draft international procedures for handling the NEO threat and seek agreement on those procedures.

In 2013 the Working Group recommended:

  • The establishment of an international asteroid warning network (IAWN) by linking together the institutions that are already performing many of the proposed functions, including: discovering, monitoring and physically characterizing the potentially hazardous NEO population; maintaining an internationally recognized clearing house for the receipt, acknowledgment and processing of all NEO observations; recommending policies regarding criteria and thresholds for notification of an emerging impact threat; and developing a strategy using well-defined communication plans and protocols to assist Governments in the analysis of impact consequences and in the planning of mitigation responses.
  • The establishment of a space mission planning advisory group (SMPAG) by Member States with space agencies, facilitated by the United Nations on behalf of the international community, with no financial implications for the budget of the United Nations. Its responsibilities should include laying out the framework, timeline and options for initiating and executing response activities, informing the civil-defence community about the nature of impact disasters and incorporating that community into the overall mitigation planning process through an impact disaster planning advisory group.

The recommendations were approved by the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of COPUOS during its 50th session, held in February 2013, and formally endorsed by the Committee at its 56th session in June 2013 and by the 68th session of the GA in December 2013 (Resolution 68/75).

The first meetings of IAWN and SMPAG took place in 2014.

For information on SMPAG, see http://www.cosmos.esa.int/web/smpag

For information on IAWN, see http://www.minorplanetcenter.net/IAWN/

 

Document Symbol Year of Issue

Title of Document

Available Languages

     

Arabic

Chinese

English

French

Russian

Spanish

 

A/AC.105/1001

2012

Report of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee on its forty-ninth session, held in Vienna from 6 to 17 February 2012

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A/AC.105/987

2011

Report of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee on its forty-eighth session, held in Vienna from 7 to 18 February 2011

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A/AC.105/958

2010

Report of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee on its forty-seventh session, held in Vienna from 8 to 19 February 2010

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A/AC.105/933

2009

Report of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee on its forty-sixth session, held in Vienna from 9 to 20 February 2009

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A/AC.105/911

2008

Report of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee on its forty-fifth session, held in Vienna from 11 to 22 February 2008

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A/AC.105/890

2007

Report of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee on its forty-fourth session, held in Vienna from 12 to 23 February 2007

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Scientific and Technical Subcommittee 2013: Presentations made during the Working Group

Report of the Action Team on Near-Earth Objects: Recommendations for an international response to a NEO threat
S. Camacho, Chair, Action Team on NEOs
Powerpoint Presentation
NEO Threat Detection and Warning: Plans for an International Asteroid Warning Network
T. Spahr, USA
Powerpoint Presentation
Mitigation of the NEO Impact Threat
L. Drube, Germany
Powerpoint Presentation
Recommendations of the Action Team on NEOs for an International Response to the Near-Earth Object Impact Threat
L. Johnson, USA & D. Koschny, ESA
Powerpoint Presentation
Flyby of 2012 DA14: Preliminary Results
USA
Powerpoint Presentation
Chelyabinsk Event 15 Feb 2013: Initial Preliminary Analysis
USA
Powerpoint Presentation
 

 

The Action Team on Near-Earth Objects

The Action Team on Near-Earth Objects was established in 2001 by the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in response to recommendations of the Third United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE III).

The mandate of the Action Team is to:

(a) Review the content, structure and organization of ongoing efforts in the field of near-Earth objects;

(b) Identify any gaps in the ongoing work where additional coordination is required and/or where other countries or organizations could make contributions; and

(c) Propose steps for the improvement of international coordination in collaboration with specialized bodies.

The Action Team identified three primary components of threat mitigation:

(a) Discovering hazardous asteroids and comets and identifying those objects requiring action;

(b) Planning a mitigation campaign that includes deflection and/or disruption actions and civil defence activities; and

(c) Implementing a mitigation campaign, if the threat warrants.

In 2013, the Action Team will finalize its Recommendations of the Action Team on Near-Earth Objects for an international response to the near-Earth object impact threat. The recommendations are meant to:

(a) ensure that all nations are aware of potential threats and

(b) ensure the design and coordination of mitigation activities among nations that could be affected by an impact and those that might play an active role in any eventual deflection or disruption campaign.

 

The UN's Action Team on Near-Earth objects discusses its recommendations for an international response to near-Earth Object impact threat (20 February 2013,Vienna)

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