We are at the beginning of a new era in exploration where private organizations can now carry out grand and audacious space missions previously only possible by governments. The B612 Foundation, a 501(c) 3 organization, aims to build, launch, and operate the first privately funded deep space mission – a space telescope to be placed in orbit around the Sun.
The orbits of the inner solar system where Earth lies are populated with a half million asteroids larger than the one that struck Tunguska in 1908, and the vast majority are uncharted. These asteroids are a scientific and economic opportunity in that they contain the original building blocks of the Solar System, are targets for future human exploration, and may contain valuable raw materials. These asteroids are also a threat in that they can pose great risk to humanity here on Earth. Taking advantage of these opportunities and dealing with these threats require not only knowing where each of these individual asteroids is now, but also projecting where they will be in the future. The B612 Foundation will create the first comprehensive, dynamic map of our inner solar system that will show the current and future locations and trajectories of these Earth crossing asteroids.
Mapping the great unknown of the inner solar system is the first step to opening up this next frontier. 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.
Discovery & Mapping
Sentinel is a mission of discovery and mapping. For the first time in history, the B612 Foundation will create a comprehensive and dynamic map of the inner solar system in which we live, providing vital information about who we are, who are our neighbors, and where we are going. Our neighborhood in the inner Solar System (the region inside roughly Mars orbit) is currently mostly uncharted, with only about one percent of the Near Earth Asteroids larger than the asteroid that struck Tunguska having had their orbits mapped. We are essentially flying around the Solar System with our eyes closed. Space technology has advanced to the point where we can now open our eyes. It is time for us to see where we are going and to know what is in our path. The Sentinel mission will discover asteroids whose orbits cross Earth’s orbit and track them accurately enough to be able to calculate their positions a century into the future. We will therefore know which asteroids will pass close to Earth and when, and which if any of these asteroids actually threaten to collide with Earth.
This dynamic map will provide the blueprint for future exploration of our Solar System. It will allow us to see in advance which interesting asteroids are easily accessible, and when they will pass near Earth. From the standpoint of protecting humanity, if one of these asteroids is headed towards impact, we should know decades in advance. And with decades of advance notice, only a tiny change in an asteroid’s trajectory is sufficient to deflect that asteroid away from Earth (usually less than 0.02 mph change in velocity). This makes the future task of protecting Earth relatively straightforward with several promising technologies. Conversely with little or no notice of an impending impact (less than a few years), we limit our options to few or none – making the Sentinel Map critical to the future of humanity.
The Sentinel Map will be the definitive map of the inner solar system. When complete, more than 98 percent of all Near Earth Asteroid discoveries will by then have been made by Sentinel. The number of Near Earth Asteroids discovered and tracked to date by all other telescopes worldwide, including all previous space missions, total about 10,000. The Sentinel Mission will surpass this total in just the first month of operation, and will go on to discover and track more than 200,000 by the end Year 1. It will find and track 90 percent of asteroids larger than 140 meters (roughly equivalent to a 100 Megaton explosion should they hit us) within the first 5.5 years of operation, and more than a half million Near Earth Asteroids in total.
“The nice thing about asteroids is that once you’ve found them and once you have a good solid orbit on them you can predict a hundred years ahead of time whether there is a likelihood of an impact with the Earth.”
Apollo 9 Astronaut Rusty Schweickart, B612 Foundation Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus
SENTINEL INFRARED (IR) SPACE TELESCOPE AND MISSION
The optimal location for tracking Near Earth Asteroids and for making the Sentinel Map is from a location between the Earth and the Sun, from where a space telescope can scan Earth’s orbit while continuously looking away from the Sun. The optimal wavelength to find asteroids is in the infrared, where asteroids stand out from the cold dark background. Thus, we will launch the Sentinel space telescope into orbit around the Sun, near the orbit of Venus. This has the advantage that at times Sentinel will be able to scan the opposite side of the Sun from Earth. However, this adds to the technical challenge in that the distance from Earth to the Sentinel Space Telescope will vary between 30-170 million miles. This is hundreds of thousands of times further than the Hubble Space Telescope, which was placed in orbit only 350 miles from Earth!
The B612 Foundation is working with Ball Aerospace, Boulder, CO, which has designed and will be building the Sentinel Infrared (IR) Space Telescope with the same expert team that developed the Spitzer and Kepler Space Telescopes. It will take approximately five years to complete development and testing to be ready for launch in 2017-2018. The launch vehicle of choice is the SpaceX Falcon9.
The Sentinel Space Telescope is a space-based Infrared (IR) telescope that will depart Earth, headed inwards into the Solar System. Sentinel will perform what is known as a gravitational slingshot maneuver off the planet Venus to enter its final orbit around the sun. This will provide the optimal vantage point to map the locations and trajectories of Earth-crossing asteroids. The telescope will have a 20-inch (0.5 meter) diameter aluminum mirror to collect the Infrared signal in a large field of view. The telescope image will be recorded by a sensitive array of 24 million pixels that will be cooled to a temperature of -133°C, (-207°F), to improve its sensitivity. Sentinel will scan the entire night half of the sky every 26 days to identify every moving object. Repeated observations of the sky in following months permit creating a very high-fidelity map of the new asteroids that are discovered.
The data collected by Sentinel will be sent back to the Earth via NASA’s Deep Space Network. The Deep Space Network will also be used for tracking and navigation of the Sentinel space telescope.
SENTINEL DATA OPERATIONS CENTER
Sentinel will complete its survey of the inner solar system during its mission life of 5.5 years, with all systems designed for 10 years of operation. Data collected by the Sentinel Space Telescope will be transmitted first to the Sentinel Operations Center, located at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), University of Colorado, Boulder, Colo., then distributed to education, research, scientific institutions and governments via NASA’s Minor Planet Center, Cambridge, Mass. As part of the B612 Foundation-NASA Space Act Agreement of June 2012, NASA JPL (NEO Center), Pasadena, Calif. will conduct a comprehensive hazard analysis, making orbit determinations and threat assessments.
NASA SPACE ACT AGREEMENT
Through a NASA Space Act Agreement, signed with the B612 Foundation on June 19, 2012, NASA will support the B612 Foundation Sentinel Mission in three critical areas:
- Use of NASA’s Deep Space Network for Communications, Navigation, and Tracking.
- Asteroid orbit calculation and threat assessment.
- NASA experts to support Sentinel Review Team.
NASA has plans to appoint an independent science team to analyze the data provided by Sentinel, make orbit determinations, and conduct a comprehensive hazard analysis and threat assessment.
SENTINEL MISSION STATUS
Substantial progress has been made to date on the Sentinel Mission:
- TheB612 Foundation has assembled a technical and scientific leadership team for the Sentinel Mission, which is among the most experienced in the world.
- The preliminary spacecraft and mission designs are complete.
- A firm, fixed-price proposal has been submitted toB612 by Ball Aerospace for the IR Space Telescope.
- The experienced Ball contractor team previously built the Kepler Space Telescope, Spitzer Space Telescope, Deep Impact Mission, and Hubble Space Telescope instrumentation.
- B612 signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA in June 2012, under which NASA will provide communications, tracking, and technical support for the Sentinel Mission.
- Sentinel’s Mission Strategy has been endorsed by the National Research Council in its report on asteroid hazards, and also from the NASA Advisory Council.
WHY SENTINEL? WHY NOW?
“We feel a certain urgency to get on with it so that we can be confident that we’re not going to have a cosmic disaster here for no good, justifiable reason just because we didn’t get with it. So let’s get with it. That’s the name of the game.”
Rusty Schweickart, Apollo 9 Astronaut, Chairman Emeritus, B612 Foundation
“We’ve been given a gift, and the gift is that we have the ability now to go out there and actually do something which positively affects the future of humanity on Earth.
Space Shuttle, Soyuz, and Space Station Astronaut Ed Lu, B612 Foundation Chairman & CEO
“The B612 Sentinel mission extends the emerging commercial spaceflight industry into deep space – a first that will pave the way for many other ventures. Mapping the presence of 1000′s of near earth objects will create a new scientific database and greatly enhance our stewardship of the planet.”
Dr. Scott Hubbard, B612 Foundation Program Architect, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University and former Director, NASA Ames Research Center
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