Press Release

Johns Hopkins APL Conducts Exercise to Simulate Global Asteroid Impact Response

NASA has released a summary of the fifth iteration of a Planetary Defense U.S. Government Interagency Tabletop Exercise hosted at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL).

The two-day exercise, held in April on the APL campus in Laurel, Maryland, brought together domestic and international leaders to coordinate and evaluate a global response to a simulated asteroid impact threat to Earth. Representatives from NASA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the European Space Agency (ESA), the United Nations and other domestic and international agencies were among the participants.

Although no known significant asteroid impact threats exist in the foreseeable future, the exercise walked participants through a hypothetical scenario in which astronomers discover an asteroid with a significant chance of impacting Earth 14 years in the future. Many details about the asteroid, including its size and specific impact location, were simulated to be uncertain at the time of the exercise.

The situation required officials to discuss, coordinate and agree on courses of action, including timelines for potential space missions to gather more information about the asteroid and to possibly prevent its impact.

“The uncertainties in these initial conditions for the exercise allowed participants to consider a particularly challenging set of circumstances,” said Lindley Johnson, planetary defense officer emeritus at NASA Headquarters. “A large asteroid impact is potentially the only natural disaster humanity has the technology to predict years in advance and take action to prevent.”

The exercise built on increasing global efforts to prepare to defend the planet if necessary. In 2022, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission became the world’s first demonstration of technology for defending Earth against potential asteroid impacts. Built and operated by APL for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, the DART spacecraft intentionally collided with the asteroid Dimorphos, which posed no threat to Earth, and changed its motion in space.

“DART’s successful impact was a milestone that truly showed how far technology and the nation’s space program have come,” said APL Space Exploration Sector Head Bobby Braun. “As we look to the future of planetary defense, the DART experience will certainly inform our efforts alongside the coordinated plans we build across the government through these exercises. Bringing together a broad range of critical stakeholders is something we do every day at APL — we were pleased to host this exercise.”

Later this fall, the European Space Agency is scheduled to launch its Hera mission, which will return to Dimorphos to measure the asteroid’s physical characteristics and detail the effects of DART’s impact. Both missions will provide critical data for future deflection missions.

Organizers plan to publicly release an after-action report for the tabletop exercise, detailing strengths and outstanding gaps for which future investments can be targeted. The report will also provide recommendations for future planetary defense exercises.

“This exercise provided our domestic interagency community as well as key international partners a critical opportunity to join together and work through a very realistic hypothetical scenario,” said Dipak Srinivasan, the exercise manager from APL’s Space Exploration Sector. “Everyone involved gained invaluable insights, and now we know what we need to do to be better prepared for an asteroid threat.”

For more information about NASA’s planetary defense efforts, visit NASA’s planetary defense website.

Adapted from a NASA release.