June 29, 2012
Credit: Credit: JAXA
A California space research group plans to build, launch and operate a privately funded space telescope to hunt for asteroids that may be on a collision course with Earth, project managers said June 28.
The B612 Foundation -- named after a fictional planet in the book “The Little Prince” -- is counting on private donors to raise money for the wide-angle, infrared telescope and its operations, estimated at a few hundred million dollars.
The goal is to chart 500,000 asteroids that fly relatively close to Earth.
The telescope, called Sentinel, will be positioned closer to the sun than Earth so it can look outward and track approaching asteroids for months, Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart, chairman emeritus of B612, said during a conference call.
The technology exists to deflect an asteroid, provided it is found in time, added former shuttle and space station astronaut Ed Lu, the foundation’s chairman and chief executive.
The goal is to have decades of notice, Lu told Reuters.
“I think it would be embarrassing if we were to be struck by a major asteroid in the next few decades simply because we didn’t choose to do the mapping that’s needed to find these asteroids,” he said.
Schweickart said it was not a question of if Earth will be hit by an asteroid, but when.