Surveying the inner solar system with an infrared space telescope

M. W. Buie, H. J. Reitsema, and R. P. Linfield. AJ 152, 122 (2016).


We present an analysis of surveying the inner solar system for objects that may pose some threat to Earth. Most of the analysis is based on understanding the capability provided by Sentinel, a concept for an infrared space-based telescope placed in a heliocentric orbit near the distance of Venus. From this analysis, we show that (1) the size range being targeted can affect the survey design, (2) the orbit distribution of the target sample can affect the survey design, (3) minimum observational arc length during the survey is an important metric of survey performance, and (4) surveys must consider objects as small as D=15-30 m to meet the goal of identifying objects that have the potential to cause damage on Earth in the next 100 yr. Sentinel will be able to find 50% of all impactors larger than 40 m in a 6.5 yr survey. The Sentinel mission concept is shown to be as effective as any survey in finding objects bigger than D = 140 m but is more effective when applied to finding smaller objects on Earth-impacting orbits. Sentinel is also more effective at finding objects of interest for human exploration that benefit from lower propulsion requirements. To explore the interaction between space and ground search programs, we also study a case where Sentinel is combined with the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) and show the benefit of placing a space-based observatory in an orbit that reduces the overlap in search regions with a ground-based telescope. In this case, Sentinel+LSST can find more than 70% of the impactors larger than 40 m assuming a 6.5 yr lifetime for Sentinel and 10 yr for LSST.

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