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Private space telescope to hunt for big Earthbound asteroids (+video)

The nonprofit B612 foundation is expected to launch its Sentinel space telescope in 2017 to detect big asteroids several decades before they could hit Earth.

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Such monster impacts are a fact of life on our planet. Asteroids big enough to cause major disruptions to the global economy and society (were they to strike a populated area today) have hit Earth every 200 or 300 years on average, Apollo 9 astronaut and B612 chairman emeritus Rusty Schweickart has said.

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Giving ourselves a chance

B612 officials want Sentinel to help fill the huge gaps in our near-Earth asteroid catalog.

The telescope, which will scan Earth's neighborhood from an orbit near that of Venus, should spot the few remaining mountain-size space rocks and find 90 percent of the 460-footers and 50 percent of the 130-footers out there, Lu said.

The goal is to detect big, dangerous objects several decades before they may hit us, giving humanity enough lead time to mount a deflection mission. We have a chance, in other words, to avoid the fate of the dinosaurs, which were wiped out by a catastrophic impact 65 million years ago.

"Today, with our technology and with our knowledge, we are able to very slightly but effectively reshape the solar system to enhance long-term human survival," Schweickart said.

Follow SPACE.com senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall or SPACE.com @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook and Google+.

Copyright 2012 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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