B612 Sentinel

The First Privately-Funded Deep Space Mission

The B612 Foundation wants to map the inner solar system's asteroid inhabitants and chart their orbits over the next hundred years. And to do so, it will build, launch, and operate the first privately funded deep space mission in the history of human spaceflight.

There are entities watching the sky, like NASA's Near-Earth Object program, which has logged nearly 10,000 objects -- 90 percent of the estimated objects larger than a half-mile across. But according to B612, there are a half million more asteroids larger than the one that devastated the Tunguska region in northern Russia in 1908. Of those, we've mapped only one percent. Sentinel aims to map the rest.

B612's principals announced that they have raised enough money to fund the design of their Sentinel spacecraft and set a launch goal of 2017 (a second window in 2018 is also available). The optimal place from which to view Earth's orbit and the things that cross it is from a place somewhere around Venus's orbit, between 0.6 and 0.8 astronomical units. It will get there via a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that will set it on course for a "slingshot" around Venus that will bring it into into a final orbit that will carry it anywhere from 30 million miles away to up to 170 million miles away.

The data flowing back from Sentinel (which will be managed by NASA's Deep Space Network) will be made public. NASA and other space agencies can use it to pick out targets for exploration or study. Commercial entities like the upstart Planetary Resources can tap it to discover potential targets for asteroid mining.

This is awesome, but "between Earth and Venus" counts as "deep space"?

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19 Responses:

  1. Lun Esex says:

    I suppose it's "deep space" like the way the "deep end" of a swimming pool is "deep water."

  2. Dennis says:

    When you've only been a thumb's width from a basketball for forty years...

  3. Ben Brockert says:

    "Space" is everything ~100km above the surface of Earth. "Deep space" is everything outside Earth orbit, ~1,500,000km away from Earth.

    • jwz says:

      That's dumb.

      • Ben Brockert says:

        Also, 134340 Pluto isn't a planet. It's sometimes useful to set definitions, even if not everyone likes them.

        I've met with Rusty Schweickart, one of the founders of B612 and, until recently, the chairman. "Walked on the moon, trying to save the earth" is about the coolest resume I've heard of.

      • While I kinda agree, I kinda disagree. Space is big. ref: https://twitter.com/neiltyson/status/211012881658023936 '"We're a half billion miles from Earth"- just past Jupiter'

      • Perry says:

        The definition might (or might not) be dumb, but that's what it is. "Deep Space" currently means beyond earth orbit. "And now you know"...

      • 205guy says:

        I agreee, it is just an arbitrary word, but I bet there is some basis in implementation. Once your craft leaves earth orbit, you need another set of coordinates to track it. You also need some different equipment with some different time constraints (can only communicate every so often). To use another exploration analogy, it's kind of like sailing out of sight of the coast. The Phoenicians covered most of the Mediterranean by staying in sight of the coast, and the Portuguese got to India that way with better boats, but obviously somebody had to go out of sight of land to find all the land.

        The question is, how different is the implementation for missions to near "deep" space, say the inner solar system, from the outer solar system or beyond (what sci-fi has taught us was "deep" space). If very different, they you would have a case.

      • anyfoo says:

        Just because you used to watch Deep Space Nine.

  4. Stephen Harris says:

    Given "the moon" as a yardstick, Venus orbit is deep

  5. Baby steps on "deep space". This is AWESOME.

  6. It's worth noting that the original goal of B612 was "Significantly alter the orbit of an asteroid in a controlled manner by 2015", but they've backed off their ambitions from rearranging the solar system's furniture to just taking inventory since then.

    • Mark Wilkin says:

      This is addressed on the website, they were originally hoping that someone else was going to get the sky survey sorted out so they could focus on moving asteroids. Recession + Budget Cuts means that hasn't worked out, so they're doing it themselves. Good luck to them I say.

  7. 205guy says:

    This is pretty much how Rendez-Vous With Rama (by Arthur C. Clarke) starts out. Except now we're not waiting until northern Italy gets destroyed to do something about it.

    I wonder if Harry Seldon took into account the effect of science fiction on actual events. Also, why is there no sci-fi universe where sci-fi is as real and pervasive as it is in reality? Open question: have writers and movie-makers imagined all possible futures already?

    • joebob says:

      Ubik? Lathe of Heaven?

      • 205guy says:

        Sorry, haven't read those. Their plot synopsis on wikipedia doesn't give much detail on their universe, but the role of sci-fi in them seems limited. But I'd be willing to hear more details. Admittedly, I don't have a huge knowledge of sci-fi, just the classics. I did find this detail in the wikipedia for Lem's His Master's Voice, which I did read but didn't recall:

        "At some point the involved scientists, desperate for new ideas, even begin to read and discuss popular science-fiction stories, and Lem uses this opportunity to criticize the science fiction genre, as Hogarth soon becomes bored and disillusioned by monotonous plots and the unimaginative stories of pulp magazines."

    • pavel_lishin says:

      > Also, why is there no sci-fi universe where sci-fi is as real and pervasive as it is in reality?

      Niven's Fallen Angels proposes a future where science fiction is outlawed, and conventions are held in secret, hidden from the oppressive government. (Naturally, since it's a big "thanks, guys" novel to scifi fans, in the story scifi fans end up saving the day.)

    • Lun Esex says:

      Fallen Angels was co-written with Jerry Pournelle and Michael Flynn.

      Also Niven/Pournelle:

      Inferno is their retelling of Dante's Inferno with an agnostic science fiction author as the main character.

      In Footfall the earth is invaded by aliens and science fiction writers are employed by the government as technical advisers on alien technology and behavior.

      Also, comic books from various publishers frequently play on the trope that comics exist in their worlds and the stories in them turn out to be either alternate realities that actually exist, or the stories of Golden Age characters that used to be true history in that reality but have been re-conned into fiction. (See especially: Miracleman.)

      In TV science fiction there's a couple examples played for laughs that I can think of: One Star Trek DS9 episode has Sisko hallucinating that he's a pulp science fiction writer in the '30's/'40's and his real life on DS9 is just a fantasy he's made up for the stories he's writing. Then there's the Stargate SG1 episode "Wormhole Xtreme" that's a total self-parody about a science fiction TV show that's just TOO strikingly similar to their own reality to be coincidence.