Group Plans To Launch Private Space Telescope

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A group of scientists are set to unveil an audacious plan for the first privately funded deep-space telescope — a mission that aims to map the inner solar system for potentially dangerous asteroids.

On June 28, members of the B612 Foundation will discuss plans to build, launch and operate the Sentinel Space Telescope Mission during a press conference at the Morrison Planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

According to a June 19 press release announcing the event, the telescope will circle the sun and identify space rocks with orbits that cross Earth. Determining the trajectories of these asteroids will help protect Earth from cataclysmic impacts and will also help mission planners chart future expeditions deeper into the solar system.

“Mapping the great unknown of the inner solar system is the first step to opening up this next frontier,” organization officials said in a statement. “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.”

The scheduled speakers will include:

  • Ed Lu, the B612 Foundation’s chairman and chief executive as well as a former space shuttle, Soyuz and space station astronaut.
  • Rusty Schweickart, the Apollo 9 lunar module pilot who co-founded the B612 Foundation and now serves as chairman emeritus.
  • Scott Hubbard, the Stanford professor and former NASA Ames Research Center director serving as the project architect.
  • Harold Reitsema, a former director of science mission development at Boulder, Colo.-based Ball Aerospace & Technologies, who will serve as the Sentinel mission director.

The B612 Foundation’s announcement comes in the wake of startup Planetary Resources unveiling a plan in April to finance robotic asteroid-mining missions by building and selling low-cost space telescopes for Earth observation and astronomy applications.

NASA and other teams of astronomers regularly use telescopes to monitor the sky for asteroids that could pose a threat to Earth. Experts have said that while giant asteroids could pose a global threat to our planet, even a larger space rock measuring about 140 meters wide could create widespread destruction at its impact point.

Last year, NASA scientists announced that they had successfully tracked about 90 percent of the largest asteroids in orbits that approach near Earth.

Data from NASA’s infrared WISE space telescope allowed astronomers to estimate that there are about 981 asteroids the size of a mountain or larger on paths that come near Earth. About 911 of those asteroids have been tracked, researchers said.