A new European telescope inspired by an insect's eye could help protect Earth from dangerous asteroids when it begins hunting space rocks next year.

The prototype survey telescope, nicknamed "Fly-Eye," is designed to split images it takes of the sky into 16 smaller images for a larger field of view- a handy asset when scanning the entire sky for near-Earth objects (NEOs). The technique is similar to the way a fly's compound eye works, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). A new ESA video shows an animation of the Fly-Eye telescope.

"The development of the first optical sensor specific to ESA's NEO search and discovery activities is a fundamental step toward Europe’s contribution to safeguarding our planet from possible collisions by dangerous objects," Nicolas Bobrinsky, Head of ESA's Space Situational Awareness Program (SSA) said in a statement. [See images of potentially dangerous asteroids]

The 'Fly-Eye' telescope could help European scientists hunt for dangerous near-Earth objects by 2015.
The 'Fly-Eye' telescope could help European scientists hunt for dangerous near-Earth objects by 2015.
Credit: ESA/Compagnia Generale dello Spazio CGS

The new telescope should eventually be part of a network of asteroid-hunting observatories that could find potentially dangerous asteroids, which humans will do follow-up observations on, ESA officials said. Under ideal conditions, the network should be able to spot cosmic objects that are 131 feet (40 meters) across or larger at least three weeks before impact, according to ESA.

"The new telescopes would provide the resolution necessary to determine the orbits of any detected objects," Gian Maria Pinna of SSA said in the same statement. "If the prototype confirms the expected performance, it will pave the way to full procurement and deployment of the operational network of telescopes."

The "Fly-Eye's" field of view is wide. The telescope will be able to see a patch of sky that is about "13 times the diameter of the moon as seen from Earth," ESA officials said.

Asteroids are fascinating for lots of reasons. They contain a variety of valuable resources and slam into our planet on a regular basis, occasionally snuffing out most of Earth's lifeforms. How much do you know about space rocks?
Earth Causes Asteroid-Quakes
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Asteroid Basics: A Space Rock Quiz
Asteroids are fascinating for lots of reasons. They contain a variety of valuable resources and slam into our planet on a regular basis, occasionally snuffing out most of Earth's lifeforms. How much do you know about space rocks?
Earth Causes Asteroid-Quakes
0 of questions complete
ESA penned a 1 million Euro contract (nearly $1.3 million) with a consortium to produce a design of the telescope, which could start hunting the skies in 2015. The telescope's modular design will allow the space agency to produce the telescopes more cheaply and with smaller maintenance costs, ESA officials wrote in a news release.

"This novel technology is key to the future NEO survey network," Pinna said.

Amateur astronomers and officials working with space agencies around the world track asteroids and other cosmic bodies from Earth's surface. So far, scientists have found and calculated the orbits of more than 10,000 near-Earth objects.

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