It is now over 9 months since the initial Government response to the
recommendations of the Task Force that I set up to report on
potentially hazardous Near Earth Objects – asteroids and comets that
pass close enough to the Earth to be called ‘near’.

In this update I am pleased to announce the choice of the location
for the UK NEO Information Centre as the National Space Science
Centre (NSSC) in Leicester supported by the Natural History Museum
(NHM). I look forward to seeing this Centre developing in harmony
with the ongoing research activities in the UK and internationally.
The UK Centre will share information with the range of other
locations that are active in the field. This will include those in
the NSSC Consortium; Queens University Belfast, Royal Observatory
Edinburgh Visitor Centre, United Kingdom Astronomy Technology Centre,
University of Edinburgh, Queen Mary University of London and the
University of Leicester as well as the recently set up Spaceguard
Centre in Wales. It is hoped that many other sites will be able to
update their information on NEOs and make use of the developments at
the new information centre.

Dr Alan Fitzsimmons of Queens University, Belfast, has now completed
the review that PPARC commissioned on possible telescope facilities
within its sphere of influence that could be available for NEO
related activities. Some recommendations have been made for the use,
in particular, of two telescopes on La Palma in the Canary Islands
and this will be followed up in earnest over the next few months.
While details of the source of funds to support ongoing operations
still need to be identified, suitable telescopes will become
available that could assist the work of tracking NEOs (so that once
found they are not lost again), finding new NEOs (fainter and
therefore smaller and more numerous than have been discovered
before), and follow up observations (to characterise NEOs). The
planned use of the Isaac Newton telescope on La Palma to find faint
NEOs will be tested during a pilot run, still to be scheduled but
taking place some time in the six-month period starting in February
2002. We can even hope that this pilot study will itself discover a
new faint NEO or two.

Various groups worldwide are now considering the NEO issue from an
international perspective and recent meetings such as the Japanese
International Workshop have helped to develop ideas for better and
more broadly based collaboration amongst the observation and orbit
calculation groups worldwide. It is also significant that the
European Space Science Committee (ESSC) of the European Science
Foundation (ESF) considered the NEO issue, along with other important
issues, in its general position paper covering recommendations to
Ministers of European Space Agency (ESA) Member States. On NEOs it
reported that “The ESSC-ESF endorses the conclusions of the UK Task
Force and believes that the threat posed to humanity by NEO impacts
is real and similar in character to other risks of low probability
but high consequence which governments take very seriously e.g.
earthquakes and volcanic activity.”

A great deal has been achieved in 2001 with the success of NASA
missions such as NEAR and Deep Space 1, which rendezvoused with
asteroids and comets, but much more is planned from new scientific
missions. The ESA Rosetta spacecraft to Comet Wirtanen is currently
being put together at the ESA integration and test facility at ESTEC
in the Netherlands; one of its scientific instruments was
successfully completed in the UK and safely delivered to the
spacecraft earlier this year. ESA’s work beyond Rosetta will be
focussed in the new Aurora programme for planetary exploration that
was brought forward to the recent ESA Ministerial Council which I
hosted in Edinburgh. The definition phase of the programme was
approved at the meeting, and I committed the UK’s participation.

I will ensure that further progress with implementation of the
recommendations of the Task Force is reported at and via the UK NEO Information Centre.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

December 2001

Telescopes applied to NEO activities
(covering recommendations 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5)

1. The Fitzsimmons Report to PPARC on the use of telescopes
within the UK’s sphere of influence makes a number of recommendations
on the use of the telescopes on La Palma, at the European Southern
Observatory (ESO), and elsewhere. It reiterates the longstanding
commitment by PPARC to carry out high quality scientific research
into NEOs on any of its telescopes including its large ones via the
peer review process. The specific proposals made by Fitzsimmons for
the use for large NEO programmes of the telescopes in the Isaac
Newton Group on La Palma have been discussed at governing board level
with PPARC’s Spanish and Dutch partners. The Jacobus Kepteyn
Telescope (tracking of NEOs found elsewhere) and the Isaac Newton
Telescope (INT)(search for fainter NEOs and characterisation of NEOs)
may be available subject to funding being identified. The planned
use of the INT will be tested for a few nights to be scheduled some
time during the observing period of 6 months starting in February
2002, in a pilot run expected to prove the equipment and software in
its planned configuration.

NEOs and scientific research
(covering aspects of recommendations 3, 6 & 8)

2. No specific further action has been taken in the area of
broadening the inclusion of NEO activities in scientific mission
planning but it is becoming clear that this approach is becoming more
widely accepted. The UK supported, and, from PPARC funds subscribed
its share to the definition phase of the new Aurora planetary
exploration programme approved at the recent ESA Ministerial Council.
The programme objectives include the possibility that space missions
to NEOs will be one tangible way that such activity can be funded in
the future. Other possibilities will also be addressed in the

3. As to mounting further space rendezvous missions, recent
successes should increase the interest and improve the chances for
such missions. A number of proposals in this area are under
development and will be considered for funding within the US and

4. There is no new activity to report in the area of
multi-disciplinary studies beyond the ongoing work on the IMPACT
project of the European Science Foundation where the UK Open
University is involved.

Coordination of astronomical observations
(recommendation 7)

5. Work is progressing to place the funding of the Minor Planet
Center (MPC) on a firm financial footing and the International
Astronomical Union (IAU) has signed a formal contract regarding the
organisation of the IAU MPC, ensuring that its operation and data
access policies will allow it to continue its key role as the global
clearing-house for data and orbit computations for NEOs.

Studies into mitigation measures
(recommendation 9)

6. A workshop, “International Space Cooperation: Addressing
Challenges of the New Millennium” was organised in March 2001 under
the auspices of the international activities committee of the
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). It
addressed this area and made some suggestions. The workshop
included a working group which considered “An international approach
to detecting Earth-threatening asteroids and comets and responding to
the threat they pose”. The group explored the issues surrounding
Earth-threatening asteroids and comets and made recommendations on
how the international community should approach the issues posed by
these objects. More details can be found at .

Increasing international understanding of the issues
(recommendation 10 & 11)

7. The OECD Global Science Forum will consider a coordinated
proposal on an NEO activity at its January 2002 meeting. A workshop
with the specific aim of producing recommendations to the Global
Science Forum (GSF) of the OECD for action by Member States is
planned. The UK will help to carry forward the recommendation from
the UN World Space Conference (UNISPACE III) “Éto improve the
international coordination of activities related to NEOs”. To this
end the UK is working with the US and other countries to consider
the role of the UN in this area. Most importantly support has been
offered by relevant international organisations such as the Committee
on Space Research (COSPAR), the International Astronomical Union
(IAU), The Spaceguard Foundation and the European Space Science
Committee (ESSC) of the European Science Foundation (ESF) as well as
the European Space Agency.

National coordination and information dissemination
(recommendations 12, 13 & 14)

8. The BNSC is continuing its lead role in Whitehall on policy
in the NEO area. In carrying out this task it has been well supported
by its partners from PPARC, OST, FCO and MOD. The Emergency Planning
Division of the Cabinet Office will continue to lead in their area of

9. The newly launched NEO Information Centre will address
significant aspects of recommendation 14 and has the potential to
assist with parts of recommendation 13. More details will follow as
the centre becomes operational.

BNSC January 2002