BOULDER, Colo., Oct. 30, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. and the non-profit B612 Foundation have signed a contract for Ball to create prototype infrared imaging sensors for the Sentinel Mission, a deep space mission to protect Earth by providing early warning of threatening asteroids. Ball's detector design characterization initiates the first phase of developing Sentinel's 20-inch diameter, space-based infrared telescope.
Sentinel is led by B612, a group of highly regarded scientists and explorers whose goal is to build, launch, and operate the first privately funded deep space mission. The mission will create a comprehensive and dynamic map of the inner solar system to catalog 90 percent of the asteroids larger than 140 meters in Earth's region of the solar system. The map will detail the paths of asteroids during the next 100 years to provide decades of notice of threatening asteroids on a collision course with Earth.
Ball's advanced detector technology is responsible for many of the most spectacular space images ever taken, including those returned by the Kepler mission, the Spitzer and Hubble Space Telescopes, the Deep Impact mission and the HiRISE camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. These missions developed flight proven deep space systems that will be used to minimize the technical and programmatic risks on the Sentinel mission. Ball's state-of-the-art Detector Technology Center which opened in 2006 will play a critical role in producing the Sentinel camera."Sentinel is unique because it relies on proven systems that will now be leveraged for a privately-funded mission," said Cary Ludtke, vice president and general manager of Ball's Civil and Operational Space strategic business unit. "Ball was our first and only choice as the major contractor for Sentinel," said Ed Lu, Chairman, B612 Foundation. "The company is a pioneer in space observatories with a track record of excellence spanning more than 55 years. We are thrilled to have them as our partner." The B612 Foundation recently announced the formation and initial findings of its Sentinel Special Review Team (SSRT). The SSRT's first charge was a review of the technical requirements and management structure for Sentinel and proposed plan evaluation. This successful review was conducted September 11-13 in Boulder, where the Sentinel spacecraft will be built. Sentinel will launch into a Venus-like orbit around the sun, which significantly improves the efficiency of asteroid discovery during its 6.5-year mission. By creating a map of the solar system in Earth's neighborhood, Sentinel will enable future robotic and manned exploration. The mission data will also detect and track myriad objects potentially hazardous to humanity, and provide decades of warning of impending impacts, enough to easily deflect threatening asteroids using existing technology. To date, only about one percent of the nearly one million asteroids that could potentially hit Earth with devastating consequences have been observed and tracked. In just the first few weeks of operation, Sentinel will surpass this total, and during the first five years of operation, is expected to discover 50 times more near-Earth asteroids than have been found by all other telescopes throughout history combined. Sentinel will take approximately five years to complete development and testing, to be ready for launch in 2017-2018.