The Sentinel Mission To Save The Earth

The Sentinel Mission To Save The Earth

Jun 27

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The Threat

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The Earth orbits the Sun among a swarm of asteroids whose orbits cross Earth’s orbit. These are not the asteroids that make up the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, but rather the Near Earth Asteroids whose orbits take them much closer to the Sun, and who regularly approach the orbit of Earth. These asteroids are remnants of the formation of our solar system, and range in size from pebbles to many miles across.

More than a million of these Near Earth Asteroids are larger than the asteroid that struck Tunguska in 1908, and about 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. That asteroid was only about 40 meter across (less than the length of an Olympic swimming pool), yet destroyed an area roughly the size of the San Francisco Bay area, destroying 80 million trees over 1000 square miles.

Currently there is no comprehensive dynamic map of our inner solar system showing the positions and trajectories of these asteroids that might threaten Earth. The citizens of Earth are essentially flying around the Solar System with our eyes closed. Asteroids have struck Earth before, and they will again — unless we do something about it. The probability of a 100 Megaton impact somewhere on Earth each and every year is the same as the probability of an individual being killed in an automobile accident each year — about .01%. These odds are small, yet few among us would drive around each day without wearing a seat belt. What precautions are we taking with our planet?

We as a civilization have the capability to change the odds, and it is our mission to ensure that such impacts do not happen again. Less than 1% of the over one million asteroids greater than 40 meters have been identified to date. B612 will discover the other 99% — or 50 times more asteroids than have been found by all other telescopes combined.

The Mission

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Sentinel is a mission of mapping and discovery. Mapping the great unknown of the inner solar system is the first step in protecting the Earth from asteroid impacts and in opening up this next frontier. By observing in infrared, Sentinel will discover more than 20,000 asteroids in just the first month of operation — more discoveries than all other telescopes combined have managed to discover in the last 30 years — and over 6.5 years will locate and follow the trajectories of more than 90% of asteroids larger than 140 meters.

The Sentinel Space Telescope will take about four years to build and test, with a scheduled launch in 2017-18, aboard a Falcon 9 rocket. After 6.5 years of operation, Sentinel will discover about 500,000 NEAs. Sentinel will compile the definitive catalog of NEAs, and within a few years nearly all NEAs known to humanity will have been discovered by Sentinel (more than 98% after 6.5 years).

As Sentinel orbits the Sun every 7 months, its field of view (looking away from the Sun) will sweep around the sky. Sentinel will make repeated observations of the sky in infrared looking for objects that move: asteroids. Sentinel will transmit the data on the locations of these asteroids back to Earth where the discoveries will be confirmed and the positions of the asteroids will be mathematically pieced together into orbits.

The work of the B612 Foundation and others over the past decade has shown that asteroid deflection is possible with current technology as long as the deflection is carried out decades before the impending impact. The urgency in completing the mission arises because there could be an impact from an asteroid in the next few decades, when the task of deflecting them becomes extremely difficult, or almost impossible (depending on the size of the asteroid) using current technology. Why take this risk?

We are at the beginning of a new era in exploration where private organizations can now conduct grand and audacious space missions, previously only possible by governments — and at lower cost. Mapping the great unknown of the inner solar system is the first step to opening up this next frontier, as well as protecting Earth.

The B612 Foundation believes that humanity can harness the power of science and technology to protect the future of civilization on this planet, while extending our reach into the solar system. Our view is that we are not passengers on Space Ship Earth — we are the Crew.

An important lesson we hope young people will be able to draw from Sentinel is that individuals and small private organizations can make a difference in the world. Through the power of science and technology, humanity must eventually be able to change the evolution of the solar system. The Sentinel mission may very well find an asteroid on a collision course with Earth (in fact it has a roughly 30 percent chance). It is our belief that the people of the world will then unite in carrying out a deflection of that asteroid to prevent this future impact. We hope that B612/Sentinel will be a source of inspiration to budding young scientists, engineers, and dreamers worldwide.

Click here to help fund this important project.

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2 comments

  1. Simon Limbrick

    It all sounds very good and straight forward. With the thousands, neigh millions, of asteroids out there in relatively harmless orbit, wouldn’t an explosion – used to deflect a potential devastating earth impact, create more ‘shrapnel’ which could in turn deflect more disaster upon the earth?
    You know what happens when man interferes with nature – good intentions can have far reaching catastrophic consequences.
    Otherwise, it’s a good idea!

  2. Steve

    Simon,
    I am extremely vary myself when man try to make nature “better” but in this case i don’t see any big backfire.
    The ‘shrapnel’ will have a much smaller size than the original body, therefore creating a much smaller threat if the fall on hearth.

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