Early this morning a meteorite soared over Russia’s Ural mountains and exploded in a sonic boom that shattered glass and set off car alarms. It’s estimated 500 people are injured and at least one building was smashed to rubble by the searing flash from space.

Later today, an asteroid large enough to deliver the equivalent of a 2.4 megaton blast if it impacted Earth will skim by us closer than any similar asteroid has before – that we know of. It will come closer than the moon’s orbit, or even many communications satellites surrounding Earth.

You could say Earth is under attack from outer space. Where will we look to protect us from this alien threat? Like most things we search for these days, Google has the answer. At least in the form of providing funding to an asteroid mining firm that says its spacecraft will have the capability to detect – and eventually intercept – near-earth objects that post a threat. Google CEO Larry Page and executive chairman Eric Schmidt are among the investors of Planetary Resources Corp. A group that also includes Ram Shriram, a founding board member of Google and now a tech industry dealmaker, and Charles Simonyi, the chief architech of Microsoft Word and Excel.

Planetary Resources exists with the starry-eyed goal of mining resources from asteroids using robotically controlled small spacecraft. The Bellevue, Wash.-based firm says asteroids in the Earth’s proximity could be mined for water to support outer space travel in the future, and for rare metals needed for high-tech manufacturing on the terrestrial sphere.

Planetary Resources says its upcoming Leo Space Telescope can help spot incoming asteroids. (Image: Planetary Resources Corp.)

It’s announced two spacecraft that will be the first stepping stones to achieving its missions thus far. The Arkyd Series 100 Leo Space Telescope will have all the avionics needed to maneuver in orbit and point at various objects such as the Earth’s surface or an incoming asteroid. Currently in prototype phase, plans are in the works to eventually launch a group of the spacecraft to “lend a hand in scientific discovery and planetary defense,” according to Planetary Resources.

Down the line, the Arkyd Series 200 Interceptor could actually travel to an asteroid as it hurtles towards Earth. It adds propulsion capabilities to the Leo Space Telescope so it could leave Earth’s orbit and do a close fly-by of a incoming space object. That could help size up how dangerous an asteroid might be and inform on how to deflect a rogue object that threatens the planet.

Planetary Resource is hinting that its first spacecraft, the Leo Space Telescope, will be sold to the public. That suggests that it might fund its asteroid surveillance business by sharing space-gazing time with private owners.

An amateur video of the meteorite that exploded over Russia’s Ural mountains this morning.

Source | Planetary Resources 

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