The B612 Foundation, a non-profit space exploration group, plans to launch the “Sentinel Mission” in the next six years, a project that will send a dedicated infrared telescope into space in search of killer asteroids which could one day cause mass extinctions on Earth.
If successful B612 will be the first privately funded deep space mission to search out and catalog near-Earth objects, a project that will cost several hundred million dollars to launch.
The last asteroid to cause problems on Earth exploded over Siberia in 1908. Known as the Tunkusga event that explosion destroyed an area of land mass approximately the size of the San Francisco Bay Area. According to the group there are more than half a million asteroids near Earth that are larger than the 1908 Tunkusga asteroid.
B612 hopes to launch its new telescope aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, sending the satellite around Venus to cause a slingshot effect for further space travel. The nearly 25-foot telescope will then orbit the sun around 0.6 to 0.8 times Earth distance. If successful the group hopes to operate the satellite for 5.5 years which would allow them to document the location of approximately 90 percent of asteroids larger than 500 feet.
By finding asteroids and then calculating their orbits the group can grasp a good understanding of where the asteroids will end up in the future. Unlike ground based telescope which can be hit or miss with asteroid discovery, the group believes its space telescope will find upwards of 16,000 asteroids within the first month of operation.
NASA for years has talked about operating a space located satellite to search for asteroids, however recent cuts to the space agency make that possibility of launching an asteroid searching missing very unlikely in the near future.
If launched the B612 Foundation will share each asteroids trajectory publicly through the Minor Planet Center, allowing researchers to grab data and make their own predictions.
Here’s a view of the Sentinel telescopes orbit plans: