In DepthPlanetary Science

B612 plans asteroid hunt with fleet of small satellites

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Science  25 May 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6391, pp. 842-843
DOI: 10.1126/science.360.6391.842

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Summary

Last week, an asteroid the size of Egypt's Great Pyramid of Giza whizzed by Earth, missing it by half the distance to the moon. The concern that we may one day not be so lucky has long preoccupied the B612 Foundation, a private organization in Mill Valley, California, dedicated to finding asteroids that cross Earth's orbit and could devastate humanity. B612 itself had a near-death experience 3 years ago, when its bold plans for an asteroid-hunting space telescope fell apart. But now, its ambitions are rising again with a new technique for finding menacing objects. On 10 May, B612 announced a partnership with York Space Systems to investigate building a fleet of small asteroid hunters. For many years, B612 aimed to build and launch a much larger craft, Sentinel, a $450 million space telescope with a 50-centimeter mirror. But fundraising stalled and, in 2015, NASA ended an agreement to help B612 because it wasn't meeting mileposts, essentially killing the telescope. Now, B612 has developed a new technique, called synthetic tracking, that can produce similar results at a far lower cost with small space telescopes. Ed Lu, B612 co-founder and CEO, expects the first telescope to cost about $10 million and believes a full constellation "would be a factor of many, many cheaper" than Sentinel.

  • * Adam Mann is a journalist in Oakland, California.