The B612 Foundation announced the first privately Funded Deep Space Mission yesterday morning. It's called Sentinel, a half-meter infrared telescope designed to look for any asteroids whose orbits will cross the Earth's in the next hundred years. Construction is expected to begin this fall, and the nearly-complete design will be similar to the already-successful Spitzer and Kepler telescopes, albeit smaller. It's still 1 1/2 tons and 25 feet tall. The prime contractor will be Ball Aerospace, contractor for Spitzer and Kepler.
The B612 Foundation began in 2001. Astrophysicist Piet Hut and former astronaut Ed Lu held a 2001 workshop on Near-Earth Asteroids in Houston. The workshop attendees concluded that something needed to be done as soon as possible to be sure that the Earth was not on the verge of being knocked clean. Asteroids have wiped out almost all life on Earth several times in the past.
An asteroid impacting the Earth does so at a speed so high that the explosion can often be larger than a thermonuclear weapon. A large one could liquefy the Earth's crust at the impact point, creating a droplet that ascends into the atmosphere atop spreading circles of liquified Earth. The heat created sets the air on fire and sends a wave of flame hundreds or thousands of miles, leaving nothing alive in its path.