Silicon Valley based B612 foundation is developing the world's most advanced asteroid early warning system, which means, we don't have to rely on Armageddon style drillers to hop on an asteroid and nuke the heck out of it before it hits Earth.
Comets and asteroids fall to Earth regularly. Larger ones play a potential Earth ending role, like rocks with a 200 foot diameter could level a city, and a half mile diameter meteor could cause another Cretaceous level mass extinction.
NASA's Near Earth Object program searches the skies for this space stuff for more than a half mile wide. And it has observed roughly 10,000 objects, 90 percent of those are in our corner of the solar system, with a fleet of land based telescopes.
The NEO program isn't looking for smaller but only slightly less deadly meteors. Scientists estimate we've only found about one percent of the half million or so rocks of this size. Just great.
"That's the urgency of this," Ed Lu, former astronaut and current chairman of the B612 Foundation said in a press statement. "If there is an asteroid out there that may strike in the next 10 or 20 years, then time's a wastin'."
The B612 Foundation is located in Mountain View, CA and has been working since the turn of the century to raise awareness of dangers of these asteroids and to develop a means to detect and deflect incoming threats. The deflection part is still work in progress, but the detection part is pretty solid for now.
Called The Sentinel, it's a $200 million telescope which when launched in 2017, will become the first privately funded deep space probe ever. Designed by Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corporation, the Sentinel shares technology DNA with the Kepler and Spitzer. It employs an HD camera made up of multiple smaller detectors to scan 165 square degrees per hour for moving objects around 50 meters in diameter.
This will allow scientists to generate a map of the neighbourhood around us. thereby creating an early warning system of sorts.
The telescope is being planned to be launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, sending it to the inner solar system into a gravity assist slingshot around Venue. The 25 foot telescope will orbit the sun between 0.6 and 0.8 times the Earth-sun distance and is planned to have a 5.5 year initial mission to find 90 percent of asteroids larger than 500 feet.
It will scan the entire night half of the sky every 26 days, identifying every moving object. In just 5.5 years, B612 plans to have mapped the orbit of 98 percent of all near earth asteroids—more than half a million objects total.
Within a month, Lu calculates that the telescope will find 16,000 objects, more than doubling the known catalog.
Hopefully by then, they develop technology to deflect any of these incoming Earth ending asteroids.