NEO App Aids in Planetary Defense

The NEO Deflection App allows anyone to engage in asteroid deflection exercises in order to raise awareness about the dangers of NEOs and learn about planetary defense techniques.
NASA5

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to save the world from an asteroid or other near earth object (NEO) threatening to smash into the Earth? Now there is a computer application that allows you to be a superhero with a simple click.

The NEO Deflection App simulates an asteroid heading toward Earth, providing users the ability to manipulate variables and design a mission to deflect NEOs from entering the atmosphere and causing mass destruction. Some of these variables include the launch vehicle type, the mass of the spacecraft used for interception, liftoff and intercept times, and the asteroid’s size and density.

Dr. Nahum Melamed
Dr. Nahum Melamed teaching using the app in his planetary defense class.

Raising Awareness About Asteroid Deflection and Planetary Defense  

The application was developed in collaboration between The Aerospace Corporation and NASA/JPL. It is intended for use by non-specialists and the general public to raise awareness that NEOs such as asteroids and comets are a realistic national security threat. According to Dr. Nahum Melamed, one of the creators of the app, potential users include Aerospace customers such as SMC and NASA, along with technical experts for training, planning, and supporting planetary defense decisions. Since this interactive tool is available worldwide on the JPL website, anyone can try their skills at asteroid deflection and gain insights into deflection challenges without being an expert in the field.

Featured in an IMAX® film about NEOs and planetary defense techniques, Melamed teaches an asteroid deflection simulator course for training prospective planetary defense team experts. He also presents a version of his class at K-12 STEM events for students and teachers in order to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.

NEO Orbits
Asteroid impact simulation as demonstrated in the app.

Turning NEO Deflection App Into a Game

Due to the gaming qualities of the app, Melamed predicts that “expanded outreach might be attained if a physics-based game version is developed in the future for trying asteroid deflection on the go, adding fun to realism.” He is in the beginning stages of working with college students in creating a game based on the NEO Deflection App. Melamed hopes to someday develop the game fully so that everyone can learn more about asteroid deflection while having fun saving the world.

Read more about the options, risks, and costs involved in trying to destroy a NEO in Melamed’s paper, Planetary Defense Against Asteroid Strikes: Risks, Options, and Costs.