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Project Overview

NEOROCKS has improved knowledge on physical characterization of Near Earth Objects (NEOs) for planetary defense.

Over 3 years, NEOROCKS has connected expertise in performing small body astronomical observations and the related modelling needed to derive their dynamical and physical properties, to the pragmatic planetary defense approach, which aims to provide operational loops and information systems to protect citizens and ground infrastructures from potential threats.

NEOROCKS sought to address two challenges. The challenge for physical characterisation is to keep up with the increasing NEO discovery rate. The challenge for planetary defense is to keep up with the trend of NEO discoveries dominated by small-size objects near the Earth, capable to produce damage in case of impact. Among them, are “imminent impactors” with short warning times.

NEOROCKS proposed and implemented an innovative approach, focused on:

  1. a team of expert astronomers with access to large aperture telescopes equipped with state of the art instrumentation;
  2. investigating the relationship between orbit determination of newly discovered objects and quick execution of follow-up observations, to provide SW technologies to face imminent impactors threats;
  3. profiting from European industrial expertise on Space Situational Awareness (SSA) to plan and execute breakthrough experiments on remote tasking of highly automatised robotic telescopes for rapid response;
  4. extremely high standards in data dissemination, thus scaling up results to global level and exploiting results (through ASI Space Science Data Centre).

NEOROCKS optimised observational activities, enhanced modelling and simulation tasks, fostered international coordination and sped-up response times. It ensured availability of results and public education. Our NEOROCKERS represent a team of top scientists with extensive NEO observation and physical characterization expertise, governmental institutions with access to large infrastructures, industrial partners participating in SSA programmes and expertise in outreach and management.


Summary of main achievements

NEOROCKS outcomes are particularly meaningful within the framework of the present NEO discovery rate (more than 3000 objects per year) and the near-future operation of a new generation of wide-field, high-sensitivity survey telescopes that will dramatically improve NEO detection.

Knowledge of the physical properties (e.g. size, composition) is presently available only for a fraction of the NEO population. This knowledge is essential for timely evaluation of the actual danger they pose in case of impact, and for developing suitable mitigation strategies. This is particularly true for the “imminent impactors”, whose threat can be properly faced only by the quick and coordinated execution of astrometric and physical follow-up observations and the related data analysis.

By analysing the technical challenges and the international scenario, NEOROCKS has demonstrated the feasibility of a long-term strategy that links-up NEO astronomical observations to modelling and simulation techniques, thus responding to the need to fully characterise the NEO population.

A key element to reach this goal is implementation of a robust data management and dissemination system. The basic building blocks of this were laid down during the NEOROCKS project, with the establishment of a state-of-the-art NEO physical properties database compliant with internationally adopted standards and guidelines.


See also the Scientific Outputs page for further details.