News Space News

Thales secures contract for NASA’s NEO Surveyor mission

The planetary defense mission, scheduled for launch in 2028, will search for Near-Earth Objects, including bright and dark asteroids, the latter of which are the most difficult to find.
Photo credit: NASA JPL

Thales Alenia Space has inked a contract with prime contractor Ball Aerospace to supply communications equipment for NASA’s NEO Surveyor mission. The primary objective of this five-year mission is to bolster efforts to safeguard our planet against near-Earth objects such as asteroids and comets, particularly those within 50m km from Earth’s orbit. NEO Surveyor will deploy an infrared space telescope engineered to detect and characterise at least two-thirds of near-Earth objects measuring more than 140 meters (460 feet) across, capable of causing significant damage upon impact.

Managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, NEO Surveyor will traverse 1.5m km to reach a region of gravitational stability known as the L1 Lagrange point, situated between Earth and the Sun. Here, the spacecraft will orbit during its five-year primary mission. Positioned at this vantage point, NEO Surveyor will survey the solar system in infrared wavelengths—light invisible to the human eye and mostly obstructed by Earth’s atmosphere. Equipped with two heat-sensitive infrared imaging channels, the NEO Surveyor space telescope will detect both bright and dark asteroids, including the most elusive type, and provide precise measurements of NEO sizes, offering invaluable insights into their composition, shapes, rotational states, and orbits.

Thales Alenia Space will supply an S-band Transponder, K-band Modulator, and K-band Travelling Wave Tube Amplifier (TWTA) equipment for the NEO Surveyor spacecraft. The S-band Transponders will receive telecommands from NASA’s Deep Space Network, transmit spacecraft telemetry back to Earth, and relay ranging signals used for spacecraft distance measurement. The K-band Modulators and Power Amplifiers will transmit captured images from the NEO Surveyor telescope to Earth.

Emmanuel Terrasse, Vice President of Equipment of Thales Alenia Space, said: “We are thrilled to provide key communications equipment for the NEO Surveyor mission, which will represent a significant advance in NASA-led planetary defence efforts to protect our planet from hazardous asteroids and comets. We are grateful to prime contractor Ball Aerospace for their choice and trust in Thales Alenia Space. For more than 40 years Thales Alenia Space has contributed to hundreds of missions providing critical communications technologies, from Low Earth Orbit to Deep Space, including flagship NASA missions to explore the Universe such as the James Webb Space Telescope and the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope.”