The B612 Foundation

“The Little Prince” is a short novel written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in 1943. The story describes encounters by a little prince who has come to Earth from a small planet known as Asteroid B612.

The B612 foundation is a group dedicated to finding asteroids that pose a threat to Earth and preventing catastrophic impacts by altering their trajectory.

B612 Foundation – [b612foundation.org]

The B612 is a non-profit organization founded by a group of astronauts and scientists whose goal is to predict and prevent catastrophic asteroid impacts on Earth. B612 aims to find potentially threatening asteroids, track their trajectories, and to demonstrate the technology to alter the orbit of an asteroid in a controlled manner.

Asteroid and comet impacts have both destroyed and shaped life on Earth since it formed. The Earth orbits the Sun in a vast swarm of near Earth asteroids (NEAs), and impacts occur regularly. Most impacting objects burn up in the atmosphere before reaching the surface, but some don’t. Objects large enough to cause a destructive tsunami hit about once every ten thousand years; a 1% likelihood of occurring in the next century. Smaller, more frequent impacts, causing damage equivalent to 100 Hiroshima nuclear explosions, hit about once every 200-300 years; i.e. with a 30-50% likelihood of occurring in the next 100 years (ref.).

Unlike the dinosaurs, we have the means to prevent catastrophic impacts.

The B612 Foundation is raising the funds needed to deploy the necessary technology and building a grassroots organization.

Proposed Solution – [b612foundation.org]

The goal of B612 Foundation is to change the orbit of any asteroid found to be on a trajectory that would lead to an Earth impact. To meet this goal two essential capabilities must first be in place. We must first find and track near-Earth objects (primarily asteroids) which have the capability to do serious damage to life should they impact. Second we need to be able to execute a deflection campaign should any of these objects be found to be on a collision course with Earth.

Early Warning:

The first task, implementing an early warning system, is already underway and the fundamentals are well understood. Unfortunately, the telescopes in use today are inadequate to meet the congressionally mandated goal of discovering 90% of NEOs 140 meters and larger in diameter by 2020. While more capable telescopes are planned and coming online, this goal is unlikely to be met without additional capabilities being dedicated to the job.

Several high level reports have examined the status of the NEO search program and identified the advantage of a space-based search telescope either in lieu of or in conjunction with larger ground-based telescopes. Not only would a space telescope more rapidly achieve the search goal but, if placed in an orbit interior to the Earth’s orbit, it would also provide a superior discover capability for asteroids which spend most of time inside the Earth’s orbit and more frequent tracking of NEOs in Earth-like orbits. For these reasons the recent Task Force on Planetary Defense of the NASA Advisory Council recommended that an infra-red space telescope in a Venus-like orbit be deployed to meet the early warning goals of the NEO program.

B612 Foundation has therefore focused its early warning efforts on this space-based search and tracking telescope. With early deployment of this system the 2020 goal for discovering potentially threatening asteroids can be reached and once achieved provide decades of early warning for the most dangerous impact threats.

Deflection:

Assuming that the early warning system is in place the next highest priority for protecting Earth from cosmic impacts is to insure that we are prepared to deflect any asteroid found to be on an impact trajectory.

In work performed over the past decade by B612 Foundation and others, it has been determined that technology available today is adequate, provided essential early warning, to deflect all but the most improbable predicted impact. A deflection system, to be fully successful, must generally have both a robust and a precision deflection capability. Of the three deflection technologies available, two (kinetic impact and nuclear explosion) are robust, but not precise, and one (gravity tractor) is precise but not robust. Given these characteristics and other technical considerations, a deflection will generally be comprised of at least two missions in order to meet the need for both a substantial and a precise asteroid orbit change.

The B612 goal has long been to actually change the orbit of an asteroid in order to demonstrate that humankind can indeed protect the Earth from future asteroid impacts. The determination to conduct such a mission is born of our conviction, based on experience, that the best way to learn how to do something is to do it. Anyone who has learned to ski knows that real learning begins after you’ve put down the books, returned the rented videos, and gotten out on the slopes. You may very well fall down. In fact you probably aren’t learning as rapidly as you might unless you are falling down on occasion.

We believe it essential to demonstrate a deflection capability before it needs to be used for an actual impact threat. Our purpose is to clearly demonstrate to the general public and to public officials that the Earth can be protected from this cosmic challenge. No one knows when we will detect an NEO headed for an impact with Earth, but it could be at any time. We believe it would be irresponsible and inexcusable for the world to face such a frightening situation without a confident answer that we can prevent it. This scenario will occur; it is only a matter of how soon. Our proposed answer is to be ready for it as soon as possible by already having demonstrated the capability. To do otherwise would be unthinkable.

Note: While the above statements represent the top level of B612 Foundation’s proposed solutions to the NEO impact threat, there are many subtleties and technical details within both the early warning and deflection subjects that we have not touched on. For those interested in greater technical detail please check the website periodically as we will be adding depth to many of these issues

SEE ALSO:
Asteroid Impact Effects
The Beginning of the Space Age
Stepping Stones to Space
Fortunes in Space
…articles related to the Asteroid Belt

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