The First Privately Funded Deep Space Mission Gets A Boost

By Brian Williams | Updated

The past year has been chock full of space news, so don’t be too disappointed if you haven’t heard of the B612 Foundation’s Sentinel Mission. B612 may not be the big news item that SpaceX and Curiosity are, but its mission might be far more important for all of humanity. With just private funds for support, the B612 Foundation’s Sentinel Mission aims to look for the hidden asteroids in our solar system that could possibly wipe out all life on Earth. Now, with the help of some generous donations, B612 is even closer to making that mission a reality.

The B612 Foundation started back in 2002 with the purpose of investigating ways to protect Earth from asteroid impacts, namely through deflection by various means. After 10 years of working the problem, they decided that deflecting an asteroid really isn’t a problem if you have enough time before it hits; the problem is that we aren’t getting enough advance notice of possible impactors to do anything about them (out of a million objects crossing the Earth’s orbital path, we’ve mapped only about 10,000 of them). So, in 2011, B612 changed its focus to asteroid detection, and just this past June announced that they would be trying to create the first privately funded deep-space mission in history to help solve this problem. The Sentinel Mission is a plan to put an infrared space telescope in orbit around the sun, looking outward into the inner solar system and hopefully able to find any hidden asteroids waiting to smack into Earth.

The B612 Foundation says the Sentinel space telescope will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build over the course of four and a half years. According to Parabolic Arc, they recently got a big boon of new Founding Circle members from several notable corporations. Among the new circle of members, who not only make financial contributions to the mission but science and technology contributions where possible, are two Facebook engineers, the VP of Global Product Management at eBay, a Senior VP at Google, and the CEO of Reddit, among others. While there’s no information on just what sort of financial or technological contributions these new Founding Circle members have made, judging by their occupations, I think it’s a safe bet that B612 just got a large wad of cash.

Without specifics on how much money B612 has received, it’s a little hard to guess what the chances of this mission making it off the ground are, but we should all be rooting for its success. Although, just to be a Debby Downer, even if we get this thing up there and map out all the dangerous asteroids in the near solar system for decades down the road, we’ll still be screwed if a rogue comet comes zooming in from the Oort cloud and smacks into us. Just sayin’.