DIY Space: The Sentinel Mission

Looking outwards with Sentinel. Image hosted on B612 Foundation’s site. Click to go there.

This particular DIY Space isn’t so much about building a space project as it is about being involved with one.  In this case, the involvement looks to be your potential donation of money to the Sentinel Mission.  But your money could potentially help save millions of people–literally.

There have been some questions lately as to why we humans are so bad at detecting rogue asteroids stalking the Earth.  Especially when we have so many satellites in orbit.  Well, here’s the thing:  the majority of satellites are inward-looking, focusing constantly on the Earth.  Communications satellites, imagery satellites, infrared satellites, weather satellites, and more–most are constantly looking towards the Earth and man’s activities on its surface.  This means that unless an asteroid happens to move to within the field of view (FOV) of a satellite looking at the Earth, there’s little chance of us noticing it’s even there.

There are programs, such Earth Shield and the Catalina Sky Survey, that are trying to change that.  But Sentinel will also be tremendously helpful.  For one it’s not focused on the Earth, but the space around it.  The Sentinel Mission is basically a satellite with an infrared “camera” and telescope payload that would be put into an orbit approximating the planet, Venus’, period.  The telescope will look outwards, past the Earth as it orbits, to identify Near Earth Objects (NEOs).  According to the Sentinel mission’s site, they want to find “90 percent of the asteroids larger than 140 meters” that stray to where the Earth orbits using the Sentinel satellite.  Why?

It’s so there’s some awareness of which asteroids might possibly hit the Earth.  The Sentinel satellite would provide this awareness.  The Sentinel’s payload might be able to detect asteroids as small as 30 meters.  If you don’t think that’s important, then you need to read a bit about Tunguska, an area in Russia that was hit by a 40 (or 190–depends on source) meter-in-diameter asteroid in 1908.  Imagine if an asteroid that size interrupted a soccer game…

The mission is being run by B612 Foundation, although they are getting help from companies such as Ball Aerospace to help build the satellite.  If you have money you’d like to donate to help B612 Foundation get Sentinel into orbit, then just go to this part of their site.  The worst this mission might do is enable us to know more about the celestial neighborhood the Earth resides in, so why not?

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