Washington: Asteroid hunters have announced plans to launch the first privately funded deep space mission in history to look for asteroids that could threaten Earth.
The SENTINEL mission, announced by the B612 Foundation, would send a telescope into orbit around the sun in order to track small to mid-sized asteroids that could be dangerous to our planet.
NASA already works with a network of astronomers to track the most dangerous near-Earth asteroids, those more than two thirds of a mile across. They say they believe they have already identified nearly 90 percent of those deadly space rocks.
However, there is very little data on an estimated 500 million smaller objects that could do us harm — like whatever exploded over the Tunguska region of Siberia in 1908, levelling over 800 miles of forest.
This is a problem, said the chairman and CEO of the B612 Foundation and former astronaut Ed Lu.
“We've identified and mapped only about one percent of these asteroids to date,” ABC News quoted Lu as saying at a press conference.
“During its 5.5-year mission survey time, Sentinel will discover and track half a million Near Earth Asteroids, creating a dynamic map that will provide the blueprint for future exploration of our solar system, while protecting the future of humanity on Earth,” he noted.
Launch of the Sentinel telescope is targeted for 2017 or 2018 — if the project, which would cost several hundred million of dollars, is able to find funding.
And the B612 group is optimistic about their mission.
A press release issued by the foundation said, “Advances in space technology, including advances in infrared sensing and on-board computing, as well as low-cost launch system, have opened up a new era in exploration where private organizations can now carry out grand and audacious space missions previously only possible by governments.”
First Published: Friday, June 29, 2012, 19:22