Science & Technology

Asteroid Institute adds Google Cloud and AGI as tech partners for asteroid tracking

Google Cloud and AGI (a.k.a. Analytical Graphics Inc.) have gotten on board with the B612 Asteroid Institute to develop a cloud-based platform for keeping track of asteroid discoveries.

The two companies have become technology partners for the Asteroid Decision Analysis and Mapping project, or ADAM, which aims to provide the software infrastructure for analyzing the trajectories of near-Earth objects, identifying potential threats, and sizing up the scenarios for taking action if necessary.

“We are pleased to have two of the world’s leaders in software and computing join our efforts,” Ed Lu, executive director of the Asteroid Institute, said today in a news release.

Lu said future observatories, such as the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope in Chile and NASA’s proposed NEOCam space telescope, are expected to produce “a tsunami of data” in the decade ahead.

Thousands of previously undetected asteroids could well be discovered, and some of them could be in orbits that pose a difficult-to-determine risk of collision.

“ADAM will enable not only rapid calculations, but also be able to run simultaneous astrodynamics algorithms that will let researchers see patterns, important in protecting Earth from potentially dangerous asteroid impacts,” said Lu, a former NASA astronaut.

AGI’s Systems Tool Kit software will serve as a core component in ADAM, providing enhanced visualization and analysis for asteroid trajectories. The ADAM platform is running on the Google Compute Engine, which delivers virtual machines linked together by Google Cloud.

Veteran astrodynamicist John Carrico is in charge of the ADAM development effort. The project’s senior engineer is Laura Lark, who previously worked at Google as a senior software engineer. Last year, Lark spent eight months as a crew member for a HI-SEAS Mars mission simulation in Hawaii.

The Asteroid Institute is the research and development arm of the nonprofit B612 Foundation, which was founded in 2002 to raise awareness about potential threats from asteroid impacts and develop strategies to protect our planet.

Among the institute’s partners is the University of Washington’s Data Intensive Research in Astrophysics and Cosmology Center, or DIRAC. The UW center hosts researchers who are affiliated with the Asteroid Institute, and is also works on analytical tools for the Zwicky Transient Facility and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope.

One of the DIRAC researchers supported by the Asteroid Institute, Bryce Bolin, was the principal author of a study focusing on the elongated interstellar asteroid known as ‘Oumuamua.

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