Former astronauts push private asteroid hunting Sentinel telescope project

Two former astronauts who went into space during different eras are working together to push a new private space telescope that will help detect asteroids in time to give humanity a chance to react. The two astronauts are Apollo moon pilot Rusty Schweickart and space shuttle astronaut Ed Lu. The two astronauts are at the helm of the project with the goal of building, launching, and flying an infrared space telescope with a single mission devoted to tracking near-Earth asteroids.

The project will be called Sentinel, and the goal is to launch the space telescope in 2017-2018. The team also includes Scott Hubbard, the former director of NASA's Aims Research Center. The trio are part of a non-profit foundation called B612. The non-profit plans to raise the money for the project, estimated to require a few hundred million dollars, from corporate, private, and philanthropic donations.

The plan is to put Sentinel in orbit around the sun inward of Earth. That orbit would give Sentinel a field of view looking out past Earth enabling it to track approaching asteroids over months. The goal is to find 90% of all near-Earth asteroids that are roughly 460-feet in diameter and half of all the asteroids that are 130-feet across. NASA will be providing engineering, technical, and research support for the project. A contract is in the works with Ball Aerospace to build a wide-angle, infrared Sentinel Observatory. The team also plans to hire SpaceX to launch the satellite.

[via Discovery]