The NEOSTEL Project is developed in the framework of an ESA Program named Space Situational Awareness Near Earth Objects System (SSA NEO), which target is to implement a Network of Optical Ground Sensors that will contribute to the Survey and Tracking of natural Space Objects, such as Asteroids, Comets, etc., that could come close and potentially impact with the Earth.
This network will be based on Ground Optical Telescopes that shall allow to completely scan the full visible sky every night. This observation strategy, which is called ‘Wide Survey’ and is complementary to the traditional “Deep survey” approach, will allow the discovery of the Near Earth Objects (NEO) threats with a time advantage sufficient to adopt both prevention and mitigation actions, thus allowing to either avoid or reduce catastrophic events.
The application of the new “Wide Survey” NEO Observation Strategy will be possible only by exploiting Optical Instruments characterized by an extremely large Field of View but still ensuring the necessary accuracy, in order to reduce the number of requiredtelescopes down to an economically affordable figure.
To achieve these goals in an effective design-to-cost perspective is very difficult to reach with traditional technologies; in this respect, an important new concept based on the so-called “Fly-Eye” configuration, allowing to obtain the required stringent performances though greatly simplifying the overall optical design, has been introduced by CGS.
The application of the “Fly-Eye” concept allowed CGS to conceptually design and demonstrate the feasibility of a new Optical Telescope Architecture, permitting to merge a very wide Field of View, (continuously covering about 45 square degrees), with a seeing limited optical quality (1.5 arcsec pixel scale, for an overall 256 Mpix Focal Plane dimension) over the whole field, and provided with a one meter equivalent aperture.
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.
But a web of traditional telescopes would be complex and expensive because of the number required. Adding to the problem, the system must be able to discover objects many times fainter than the naked eye can perceive.
While no network can spot all potentially hazardous objects, under favourable conditions it should detect everything down to about 40 m in diameter at least three weeks before impact.
These fly-eyed survey telescopes offer performance equivalent to a 1 m-diameter telescope, and provide a very large field of view: 6.7° x 6.7° or about 45 square degrees; 6.7° is about 13 times the diameter of the Moon as seen from the Earth.The new telescopes would provide the resolution necessary to determine the orbits of any detected objects,” says Gian Maria”.
“If the prototype confirms the expected performance, it will pave the way to full procurement and deployment of the operational network of telescopes.”
ESA signed a contract for about €1 million with a consortium led by CGS S.p.A (Italy), comprising Creotech Instruments S.A. (Poland), SC EnviroScopY SRL (Romania) and Pro Optica S.A. (Romania) for the detailed design of the advanced telescope.
It is expected that the detailed design will be followed by several additional contracts with European companies valued at up to €10 million for building and deploying the first survey prototype telescope.
“The development of the first optical sensor specific to ESA’s NEO search and discovery activities is a fundamental step toward Europe’s contribution to safeguarding our planet from possible collisions by dangerous objects,” notes Nicolas Bobrinsky, Head of the SSA Programme.
- European Space Agency (ESA) : https://www.esa.int/ESA
- ProOptica: http://www.prooptica.ro/
- OHB Italia: http://www.cgspace.it
- CreoTech instruments S.A.: http://creotech.pl/en/neostel/