Project Blue: The Space Telescope that Will Search for Another Earth

Project Blue is currently funding its mission that will search out planets in the Alpha Centauri system.

Project Blue is building a telescope that will seek out and photograph Earth-like planets around Alpha Centauri. Blue as a movement is made up of the BoldlyGo Institute, Mission Centaur, the SETI Institute, and University of Massachussetts Lowell. The intent is to develop a technology that can visualize Alpha Centauri in around three years, and then use this visual data to point NASA and world space agencies in the direction of these new and possibly habitable planets.

The project itself is in the news after launching a Kickstarter campaign last week, but the campaign is doing more for awareness and publicity. The entire mission cost is estimated at around $30 million, and the satellite itself is expected to be in space for around two years. Timelines start now, building partnerships and organizations while raising funds and resources for the mission. The timeline ends after a launch in 2019 and a mission that will last until 2022.

Alpha Centauri was chosen as the search zone because it is the closest star system to us, and contains two stars that resemble our sun. Project Blue is looking for Earth-like planets, defined as those that are 0.5 to 1.5 times the size of Earth, in the stars’ habitable zones. Using data from the Kepler telescope it’s estimated that an average of approximately 0.6 planets of this size are in any star’s habitable zone. Because aCenA and aCenB are both in the search zone the team estimates that the chance of finding an Earth sized planet is 85%. This is explained as 1 – (1 – 0.6)^2 = 0.84. The estimate itself feels a little reckless when taking in the fact that the 0.6 number has a large error bar, and it’s not yet totally known that aCenA and aCenB are completely independent stars.

The telescope and satellite will be the size of a washing machine when completed, and the telescope will incorporate a coronagraph and dimming technologies to block the light of the two suns to get a good picture of the planets in the habitable zones. After Kepler showed us that there are several suns with several planets out there, the next step is to see which planets have oceans, and atmospheres, and will have the blue hue of Earth when photographed.

Project Blue is a definite moonshot level project. The agencies and organizations already committed to the project, and the idea of opening membership up to any space exploration enthusiast in the world is inspiring. There’s definitely a citizen scientist vibe in the campaign video along with a sense of wonder and optimism about what can happen in the next decade.