During the week of April 26, members of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) will participate in a “tabletop exercise” to simulate an asteroid impact scenario. The exercise depicting this fictional event is being led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), allowing NASA’s PDCO and other U.S. agencies and space science institutions, along with international space agencies and partners, to use the fictitious scenario to investigate how near-Earth object (NEO) observers, space agency officials, emergency managers, decision makers, and citizens might respond and work together to an actual impact prediction and simulate the evolving information that becomes available in the event an asteroid impact threat is discovered.
The fictitious impact scenario will occur during the 7th IAA Planetary Defense Conference, hosted by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs in cooperation with the European Space Agency, and will evolve over the five days of the conference, starting Monday, April 26. At several points in the conference program, leaders of the exercise will brief participants on the latest status of the fictitious scenario and solicit feedback for next steps based on the simulated data that is “discovered” each day. These type of exercises are specifically identified as part of the National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan developed over a three-year period and published by the White House in June 2018.
“Each time we participate in an exercise of this nature, we learn more about who the key players are in a disaster event, and who needs to know what information, and when,” said Lindley Johnson, NASA’s Planetary Defense Officer. “These exercises ultimately help the planetary defense community communicate with each other and with our governments to ensure we are all coordinated should a potential impact threat be identified in the future.”
So far, NASA has participated in seven impact scenarios—four at previous Planetary Defense Conferences (2013, 2015, 2017, and 2019) and three in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The joint NASA-FEMA exercises included representatives of several other federal agencies, including the Departments of Defense and State.
“Hypothetical asteroid impact exercises provide opportunities for us to think about how we would respond in the event that a sizeable asteroid is found to have a significant chance of impacting our planet,” said Dr. Paul Chodas, director of CNEOS. “Details of the scenario—such as the probability of the asteroid impact, where and when the impact might occur—are released to participants in a series of steps over the days of the conference to simulate how a real situation…