The B612 Foundation wants to map the inner solar system’s asteroid inhabitants and chart their orbits over the next hundred years. And to do so, it will build, launch, and operate the first privately funded deep space mission in the history of human spaceflight. There are entities watching the sky, like NASA’s Near-Earth Object program, which has logged nearly 10,000 objects — 90 percent of the estimated objects larger than a half-mile across. But according to B612, there are a half million more asteroids larger than the one that devastated the Tunguska region in northern Russia in 1908. Of those, we’ve mapped only one percent. Sentinel aims to map the rest.
B612’s principals announced that they have raised enough money to fund the design of their Sentinel spacecraft and set a launch goal of 2017 (a second window in 2018 is also available). The optimal place from which to view Earth’s orbit and the things that cross it is from a place somewhere around Venus’s orbit, between 0.6 and 0.8 astronomical units. It will get there via a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that will set it on course for a “slingshot” around Venus that will bring it into into a final orbit that will carry it anywhere from 30 million miles away to up to 170 million miles away.
The data flowing back from Sentinel (which will be managed by NASA’s Deep Space Network) will be made public. NASA and other space agencies can use it to pick out targets for exploration or study. Commercial entities like the upstart Planetary Resources can tap it to discover potential targets for asteroid mining.