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ABSTRACT

Congress mandated NASA to find 90% of near-Earth objects (NEO) with sizes over 140m that are potentially hazardous to the Earth by the year 2020. After an in-depth look at a number of alternative approaches, the National Research Council (NRC) concluded in 2010 that this goal was nearly impossible to reach by 2020. In this paper, we present a new space mission concept that is capable of addressing the challenges of this Congressional mandate. The proposed mission concept relies on two emerging technologies: the technique of synthetic tracking to detect NEOs and the new generation of small and capable interplanetary spacecraft. Synthetic tracking is a technique that de-streaks asteroid images by taking multiple fast exposures. With synthetic tracking, a 600 sec observation with a 10cm telescope, which can fit in a CubeSat, can detect a 20.5 mag moving object without losing sensitivity from streaking. Our primary science objective is to detect, track, catalogue, and characterize 90% of NEAs of H=22 mag (diameter of 140m) that could impact the Earth. We show that five 9U CubeSats equipped with a 10 cm synthetic tracking camera placed in solar orbit to form a constellation could achieve this objective in ~3 years of observing time. Furthermore, our mission will be able to address the goals of the Congressional mandate at a cost of ~10% compared to that of the space missions studied in the NRC 2010 report.

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