Asteroid Detection Network

We aim to bring together governmental/research institutions with private individuals for achieving more rapid and efficient follow-up observations of newly detected asteroids, focusing on NEOs that may pose a threat to us.

Following a 4-pronged approach:

  1. connect people and institutions to follow a common goal
  2. provide guidelines/tutorials for robotic observing
  3. make usage of IR detectors on robotic telescope more popular, and
  4. allow people w/o access to a telescope to engage in observations via remote utilization of telescopes around the world. This project is inviting further work on a prototype solving the Asteroid Watchers challenge.
  5. Reference: challenge drawn from

The Challenge

Primarily we aim to achieve a better awareness and involvement of citizens in the topic of NEO threat detection. Since the Chelyabinsk event in early 2013 the awareness about the threat of asteroids on critical orbits (i.e. orbits that cross earth’s orbit, or those of NEOs) has increased in the population. With our three-pronged approach to achiving this, we intend to tap into the enormous knowledge already established at many scientific and governmental institutions, and connect this infrastructure to citizens and amateur astronomers who are willing to contribute to this human effort. Our three main areas of interests are:

  1. Connect people and institutions to follow a common goal. Earlier in 2012, the NASA budget on asteroid detection and tracking was reduced significantly, so that the priorities dropped accordingly. After the Chelyabinsk event the development changed when the NASA Innovation Incubator Program took this topic up again and included it in the 2013 NASA SpaceAppsChallenge in order to involve the public. We intend to develop smart interfaces between the existing institutions, i.e. governments, agencies and research organizations, with the public in order to put the existing assets into better use for this goal. These are:

    1. Asset 1) telescopes around the world with robotic capability (e.g the so-called GOTO capability)

    2. Asset 2) citizens willing to participate in this endeavor, and Asset 3) large, well-maintained databases like the one at the Minor Planet Center (MPC), where all information, ephemeres, light curves etc. of asteroids are centralized, verified and scrutinized.

  2. Tutorials for robotic observing. Many telescopes, amateur class and professional ones, already count with features for remote operation. Most if not all of these are of proprietary, commercial origin, and there is only little visible effort spent on standardization. Also, there are a multitude of software interfaces, APIs and protocols available, so that the novice, amateur user is stuck with the choice, hardly any information on how to decide well, and especially no information about future support and upgrade capability. We see therefore a great potential for standardization on software level, but we also see the necessity for backward compatibility of existing systems. We will pursue the following approach to this:

    1. Study exhaustively the market on robotic telescope systems, contact the developers, manufacturers, and create awareness with them for the need of standarization. Many already count with a serial protocol, some on RS232, RS485, USB and Bluetooth, or communicate via Ethernet or Wifi, and it may be of value to develop an Open Source protocol abstraction layer library that can be shipped with any commercial product to provide a standard accessible interface (API).

    2. For the large DIY telescope builder community it will be great to provide references to simple, economic automation components like stepper motors, worm gears, control and driver boards, and Open Source code for addressing these, so the existing manually operated telescopes can be upgraded to be commandable from the internet.

    3. Develop a crowd-funded campaign on which facilitates upfront resources for an independent, open-source development of a complete Az/El mount with standardized interfaces to ground (i.e. to a tripod or any other “pole”) and to popular telescope types (tube sizes). It is very encouraging to see that there are a number of simultaneous efforts at this very same 2014 NASA SpaceAppsChallenge at other locations that are tackling some of these topics. They will be contacted and invited to join this standardization effort.

  3. Make usage of IR detectors on robotic telescope more popular. In the thermal infrared, the contrast of the thermal emission of asteroids to the cold background of space is much larger as in the visible. The disadvantage of visible light observations is due to the dark grey surface of the asteroids (low “albedo”, only 3-6% of the sun’s light will be reflected), therefore it is only possible to detect and track the larger asteroids, that provide enough surface to reflect an absolute minimum for making themselves detectable. One other aspect of this theme is to explore operational models for sites at high altitude mountain ranges, e.g. in the high and dry Andes of northern Chile, where the transparency of the atmosphere is close to 90% in the thermal infrared. Such a site, combined with state-of-the-art technology and remote, robotic operations, will put a tool in the hands of the public which otherwise is only possible to be done from space-based platforms.

  4. Allow people without access to a telescope to engage in, and support, observations via remote utilization of telescopes around the world. Or first-order approach to facilitating this is via the development of an Astronomical Observing Time Brokerage Platform (working title). We imagine a market for observing time with a pricing of the order of current cell phone connection fees (approx. fraction of US Dollar per minute on source) for observing time, so that telescope time becomes affordable for the one that don’t have a telescope or are at locations that don’t allow observations (e.g. due to light pollution in large cities), and compensate somewhat for the effort that others make for investing in and maintaining remotely accessible telescopes.

Work as it proceeds will be added subsequently to the link to Source Code/Main Project URL here: