Near-Earth Object Population Observation Program:

During activities related to ESA's Space-Situational Awareness (SSA) programme, the need for a sensor system simulation software tool emerged. More specifically, the tool was required to be capable of

  • analyzing the flux of small NEOs near the Earth

  • evaluating the efficiency of all-sky-surveys

  • evaluating the discovery rate of telescopic surveys

  • optimizing observation strategies

  • improving follow-up and radar observations

  • performing risk assessment analysis

  • performing trade-off studies on the observational options for the European SSA NEO Segment (e.g. wide vs. deep survey)

  • planning NEO observation campaigns, including the derivation of necessary sensor parameters

  • validating SSA-NEO Data Centre algorithms (e.g. orbit determination, Impact monitoring, Orbit improvement, Risk assessment, Mitigation)


Based on these requirements, the Near-Earth Object Population Observation Program (NEOPOP) has been developed allowing users to:


  • Generate NEO populations based on newly developed model by Granvik, Morbidelli, Bottke and many other experts

  • Simulate observations of NEO populations using a newly developed optical sensor performance model by Gelhaus

  • Analyse NEO populations and NEO population observations


NEOPOP is implemented as a console program and can be operated conveniently through a Graphical User Interface (GUI) that comes with the tool.


NEOPOP's Graphical User Interface (GUI)


The tool supports the following file formats:

  • DYS files as used by the NEO Dynamic Site/Asteroids Dynamic Site (NEODys/AstDys) group

  • MPC files as used by the International Astronomical Union Minor Planet Center (MPC) in their MPC Orbit (MPCORB) database

  • DES files (Data Exchange Standard) as used by the Panoramic Survey Telescope And Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) group


Population Generation and Analysis

NEO populations may be generated in a random fashion (with parameter value range constraints) or based on a scientifically validated NEO model. NEOPOP is able to create populations based on the outdated Bottke model and the recently developed one by Granvik and Morbidelli.

The new NEO model is based on the Catalina Sky Survey observations in the years 2006-2011 and comprises more than 4000 NEO discoveries or redetections. It accurately models the NEOs' orbits as well as their absolute magnitudes and albedos. The model is calibrated from an absolute magnitude of H=15 up to H=25 and allows extrapolation to fainter H using two different parameter sets. As the NEO population for H<15 is assumed to be completely known, known NEOs are used for this H range.


Orbital distribution of the new NEO model.


Population Generation outputs DYS, MPC or DES files. Additional physical properties are written to a seperate file containing object source (Hungarian, Phocea, …), object group (Aten, Apollo, …), albedo, minimum orbit intersection distance wrt. Earth, statistical collision probability wrt. Earth and diameter. These additional parameters can be generated for an external population file, as well.

The NEO populations may be plotted using 2D, 3D, scatter and solar system plots. It is also possible to conduct close-approach analyses and to generally filter populations using various attributes.


H-value distribution of the new NEO model (blue) and real observation data (red)

2D plot showing semi-major axis distribution of NEOs


Scatter plot showing results of a close-approach analysis executed using NEOPOP


Solar system plot (side view) of a NEO population


Observation Simulation and Analysis

NEOPOP allows the definition of ground- and space-based optical and radar sensor systems. These sensor systems may be simulated deterministicallyor using an arbitrary number of Monte-Carlo runs. As a result, the tool outputs crossings – the objects that crossed a sensor system's field-of-view – for each sensor system and Monte-Carlo run. Sensor performance models additionally determine if a crossing could be detected by a sensor.

The optical sensor performance model by Gelhaus is especially sophisticated. It calculates the background signal for a crossing by taking various background sources like planets, stars, galaxies, airglow and zodiacal light into account. It then calculates the object's signal and compares both to the sensor system's capabilities.

It is possible for users to let a sensor system's state change during observation time using observation strategies and to output artificial measurements for the sensor systems.

The observation results are written to text files, but can be, similar to the population generation result, plotted. Additionally, „sky plots“ can be created showing the whole sky from a sensor system’s point-of-view at a certain epoch.


2D plot showing eccentricity of crossings and detections of a sensor system.


Sky plot showing where, from a sensor system's point-of-view, NEOs can be observed


Solar system plot (polar view) of crossings and detections of a sensor system


Current public release version: 1.3

Platforms: Linux (32-bit / 64-bit), Windows (32-bit / 64-bit)


Project Background

NEOPOP has been developed as part of project „Synthetic Generation of a Near-Earth Object Population“ for ESA/ESTEC by Institute of Space Systems (Technische Universität Braunschweig, TUBS, Germany) and Institute of Planetary Research (German Aerospace Center, DLR, Germany) with support of Observatiore de la Côte d'Azur (OCA, France) and contributions of NEO experts.