Venture capital space missions are in the news a lot lately so why not this latest news from the B612 Foundation? Yesterday, as promised, it officially declared a goal to raise a few hundred million dollars for a space telescope. From solar orbit it would search for smallish asteroids, tens to a few hundred meters wide, with orbits that make it a bad bet to assume they won't hit Earth in the near or nearly near future. Such things could take out cities, lay waste to big counties, make trouble for much of a continent, maybe launch tsunamis if they splash into ocean, but not end or derail civilization. NASA and other agencies already have a handle on big bruisers a half mile or several miles and see none with Armageddon written on them.
The fairly new foundation represents a team that has been fretting about asteroids for many years with several well-known ex-NASA astronauts and other familiar space names on board. It takes its name, don't you already know, from the asteroid on which lived the magical Little Prince in the short book by French aviator and poet Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. That's quite clever of them. (For more gripping and entirely realistic writing read the author's Night Flight.)
One thinks that raising so much money from rich people plus 'crowd funding' from the other 99% will be about as easy as stuffing a full-grown elephant into a boa constrictor. The end goal is to build something with a fairly brief operating life and that nobody can see with one's name on it for a task serving mankind but might find zilch and thus which ought to be an int'l government job. Reporters tended to spot that fat-chance philanthropy angle but without the elephant-hat conundrum and if I need to explain that you haven't read The Little Prince. But one wishes the foundation success. This is a job that can and should be done.
With asteroid mining operations, private space taxi and overnight delivery service to the space station, sub-orbital tourism with orbiting hotels to follow, and Elon Musk vowing to open service to Mars, the private space telescope has to be covered. It does appear that, late but finally, a self-sustaining space age relying on private capital may be underway. B612's leaders spelled out their hopes for the telescope, named SENTINEL, yesterday during a press conference at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Most reporters listened in and filed from elsewhere.
- AP - Alicia Chang: Asteroid hunters want to launch private telescope ; I kept looking for something big missing. Must be there, but what it is I can't tell. Very satisfying news writing.
- Reuters - Irene Klotz: Privately owned telescope to hunt for killer asteroid ; Smart move - she put up high why the telescope will circle the sun near Venus's orbit, inbound from Earth. That way asteroids that cross near our planet's path will be easier to see, presumably due to their sunlit sides facing the instrument while the sun's glare is behind it. It ought to have had a rejoinder to the foundation chairman's declaration that technology to deflect asteroids exists. It may be imaginable as something our shared tool box can build without new inventions but is in nobody's catalog or inventory.
- Washington Post - Brian Vastag: Crowd-funded space telescope to spy dangerous space rocks ;
- MSNBC Cosmic Log - Alan Boyle: Asteroid activists launch fund-raising campaign for space telescope ;
- Space.com - Mike Wall: Sentinel asteroid-hunting private telescope could find half a million space rocks ;
- LA Times - Amy Hubbard: A space telescope to thwart deadly asteroids: Donations needed ;
- Nature.com - Ron Cowen: Private foundation plans space telescope ; Story hints to one pocket of very deep pockets that might pitch in - the billionaires and their pals behind the Planetary Resources Inc. asteroid mining venture. It has discussed its need for some telescope prospectors.
- BBC - Jonathan Amos: Asteroid hunters announce private deep space mission ;
- Charlie Petit