Ex-NASA group plans private, crowd-funded asteroid hunter
Sentinel sparks space hypegasm
A group of former astronauts, astronomers, engineers, and the ubiquitous Tim O’Reilly (presumably for the publishing rights) are getting together to try and punt a privately-funded space telescope to scan for dangerous asteroids.
Since the question is not “if” Earth is struck by a large object but “when” (the last big hit was probably the Tunguska event, which happened in Russia in 1908), the B612 Foundation wants to launch the deep-space infrared observatory to a position well away from Earth, to scan for incoming asteroids.
The Sentinel spacecraft would circle the Sun, in an orbit overlapping with Venus.
They say the aim would be to scan half a million “near Earth” asteroids like the one which a fortnight ago came within 5.3 million kilometers of us and turned out to be twice as large as was expected.
Sentinel would be positioned to look outwards and scan incoming asteroids for months, according to Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart, who is chairman emeritus of the group.
The foundation believes the telescope would be able to find 90 percent of near-Earth asteroids bigger than 140 meters in diameter, and half of those between 40 and 140 meters.
If the funds can be raised for the as-yet-uncosted mission (which B612 says would be in the order of “a few hundred million”), it could begin its mission as early as 2017. The plan is to have Sentinel built by Ball Aerospace, launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9, and operated by the University of Colorado.
Bootnote: B612 is apparently the name of the asteroid home of the lead character in the book The Little Prince. ®
President Vladimir Putin has volunteered fly to, and blow the sucker up when roid is detected, and end of the world is inevitable. Interestingly this will coincide with leadup to next Russian elections.
That's a nice planet you have there...
It'd be a shame if anything were to happen to it.
Detection comes first
If money is no object then "yes", but it's generally hard to raise money for space projects so starting with on just one is pragmatic, and:
(1) diversion will "always" be a slow process - small amounts of thrust well in advance (sorry Michael Bay...) - so you need to see the impending collision a long time in advance - possibly years
(2) detection is an extension of things we're already quite proficient at - chances are quite good that Sentinel will work as expected first time. Diversion is a whole new ball game - a number of possible avenues exist but generally require exciting new tech and quite possibly we'll need several options eg for diverting a gravitationally bound hailstorm vs a big coherent lump. So both poorer bounds on problem and higher investment required
(3) the moolah for diversion will be more forthcoming if Sentinel finds a load of scary fellow-travellers
(4) maybe the Planetary Resources will invent the necessary diversion tech anyway as part of their NEO quarrying scheme - in fact maybe Sentinel will become their "bounty hunter" (unlikely since there won't be a perfect overlap between "things worth quarrying" and "things worth dodging")