Vienna UN Space Meeting Calls for Anti-Asteroids "Road Map" by June
February 24, 2013 • 9:35AM

Concluding 12 days of discussions in Vienna about space issues, the UN Organization for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) resolved yesterday to work out a "road map" for research and development of technologies to detect dangerous asteroids in time to be able to avert damage for mankind. Any recommendations formalized by the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space will be formally approved during a UNOOSA session in June, and later submitted to the UN General Assembly.

There will also be discussion about the formation of an organization to coordinate national space agencies. A meeting of agencies at the mid-April Planetary Defense Conference of the International Association of Astronautics in Flagstaff, Arizona, will discuss the UN's proposals and make its own recommendations, according to Nicolas Bobrinsky, head of the European Space Agency's Space Situation Awareness (SSA) program. "It would be extremely useful to have a forum where space agencies can meet under the forum and protection of the UN," he told Deutsche Welle. Alan Harris from the German Space Agency (DLR) also said the UN could help. "An international agreement, which recognizes the problem and supports the establishment of an organization which could coordinate government efforts, is needed," he said.

Bobrinsky added, according to AFP, that his unit would inaugurate a center in Rome on May 22 to coordinate observatories' sightings of passing asteroids. The SSA is also working on a prototype "fly's eye" telescope, with specially designed wide vision, to help surveillance of the cosmos, he said.

Bobrinksy called for help to build an automated network with six such telescopes so that the night sky would be scrutinized around the world. Bobrinsky said the "take-home message is that we have to step up our efforts so that the necessary protection is put in place." Such a network could give three months' warning of a dangerous asteroid, "enough to evacuate a threatened region if necessary or possibly launch a mission to change [the object's] trajectory," he said, adding the "the real danger now comes from small asteroids, which are far more numerous," referring to an estimated 1 million measuring 50 meters or more orbiting the Sun, most of whcih not having been detected. "There is a colossal amount of work to be done."

Related is a report on a Voice of Russia radio interview with the director of an observatory in Kazan, Yuri Nefedyev, announcing Russian plans for a new multi-channel telescope: "Similar devices of earlier generations, which are already working in several parts of the world, can watch only a small part of the sky. The new device, which will be called 'Megatortor,' will consist of 9 telescopes and, thus, will be able to watch the entire sky." The same report quoted Serrgey Barabanov, director of an observatory in Zvenigorod, as saying that Megatortor would be effective only through "a worldwide network of reconnaissance facilities for discovering the approach of meteorites. Russia is planning to be a part of this worldwide network, but it won't be accepted into it as a full-fledged member if it doesn't have space reconnaissance facilities of its own. This is why Russia is now starting to build them."