The NEOCam sensor (right) is the basis of the proposed NEOCam orbital telescope (Credits: NASA/JPL).

The NEOCam sensor (right) is the basis of the proposed NEOCam orbital telescope (Credits: NASA/JPL).

NASA’s Near Earth Object Camera (NEOCam) is an infrared sensor intended to enhance detection and tracking of asteroids and comets. In April, scientists and engineers simulated the temperatures and pressure of deep space, to assess operation and performance of the sensor. NEOCam, an output of 10 years of joint efforts of between Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), University of Rochester, and Teledyne Imaging Sensors of Camarillo, successfully passed this critical test.

“This sensor represents one of many investments made by NASA’s Discovery Program and its Astrophysics Research and Analysis Program in innovative technologies to significantly improve future missions designed to protect Earth from potentially hazardous asteroids,” said Lindley Johnson, program executive for NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office in Washington D.C.

Optical telescopes do not provide exact estimation of the size of Near Earth objects as such objects do not emit visible light but reflect it. Hence, lighter colored objects may be incorrectly interpreted as large objects. Infrared sensors are comparatively more accurate in terms of capturing the size of the NEO.

“Infrared sensors are a powerful tool for discovering, cataloging and understanding the asteroid population,” said Amy Mainzer, Principal investigator of NASA’s NEOWISE mission at JPL. “When you observe a space rock with infrared, you are seeing its thermal emissions, which can better define the asteroid’s size, as well as tell you something about composition.”

NEOCam could be a key component of NASA’s long term plans to detect-capture-relocate Near Earth Objects (NEO), for the purposes such as protecting Earth, and exploration.

NASA’s not the only one looking for asteroids. Meet Canada’s NEOSSat:


About the author

Siddharth Raval

Siddharth Raval is a masters student in Mechanical Engineering at University of New Brunswick. His research is focused towards the study of "Rotor Dynamics of Industrial Polymer Mixers (Flow Induced Vibrations)", which is a multi-disciplinary research combining Structures, Vibrations, and Fluid Dynamics disciplines. He is passionate about machines, especially the flying machines. His interest lies in the area of Fluid Dynamics, and Flow-Induced Vibrations. He is currently associated with Space Safety and Sustainability Working Group at Space Generation Advisory Council, where he and his team is working on Space Debris Removal mission design. Connect with him on LinkedIn @