When Planetary Resources first announced its plans to mine near-earth asteroids last year, the response was impressive. More than 3,500 people applied for jobs, another 2,500 inquired about investing and nearly 50,000 reached out wanting to get involved in some way or another.
While the Bellevue-based company could only allow a select few onto the team, it knew there was some serious public interest in the mission.
“We hit a nerve far more than we expected,” co-founder Peter Diamandis tells GeekWire in an interview.
So today, Planetary Resources is announcing a new way to engage the community — launching a $1 million Kickstarter campaign for the world’s first crowdfunded space telescope. The idea was tossed around last June, but now it’s actually happening.
Planetary Resources is funded by big-name investors including Google’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, but the public campaign will allow the company to involve the public more directly. If the Kickstarter project is funded, the company will build and launch a customized version of its Arkyd-100 with an external camera into near-Earth orbit, and anyone will be able to point the telescope to explore space.
Participants will be able to use a special online interface to request a view of anything in the Solar System — an object on Earth, a point in space, etc. From its position in orbit, the Arkyd-100 will have a unique vantage point around the clock.
“For me, it’s really about giving the public a chance to be involved in the next era of exploration, where it’s not just watching NASA do it,” Diamandis said. “This is citizen science at its best.”
If the $1 million funding goal is reached by June 30, Planetary will build the telescope and launch it in early 2015.
“If there’s enough interest, we may end up building two-to-three telescopes,” Diamandis added. “We might have a constellation of space telescopes.”
You may get a kick out of the Kickstarter pledge levels, which are pretty creative. The lower cost pledges offer “Space Selfies,” which allow you to send an image of yourself that Planetary will capture with Earth as the background. Here’s an example of that:
The more expensive pledge levels allow for 30-minute observations with the Arkyd and other add-ons like tours of the company headquarters and access to a curriculum and tutorial developed by the team at Planetary. The highest level, a “Grand Benefactor and Education Ambassador,” runs at $10,000 and lets the donor sponsor Arkyd time for a K-12 school, university or museum, and includes tickets to Planetary events as well as a personal signature on the actual spacecraft.
Diamandis said that there could be a number of benefits from the telescope if it’s funded, both for the public and Planetary Resources. The company wants to build out a community that can potentially help Planetary perform tasks like data analysis and software development.
Then there’s the education side. Along with Planetary’s Chief Asteroid Miner Chris Lewicki, Diamandis has been involved with space education for the past 20 years, founding Students for the Exploration and Development of Space as well as two universities. He said this campaign continues that mission of getting kids more involved with learning.
“First-hand participation is the way people learn and get excited,” he said.
Planetary has some of the high-profile supporters for this new venture, including:
- Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson
- Actor Seth Green
- Star Trek’s Brent Spiner (Data) and Rob Picardo (The Doctor)
- Bill Nye the Science Guy
- Futurist Jason Silva
- MIT astrophysicist Dr. Sara Seager
Planetary is already backed by some of the biggest names in technology and aerospace and is planning to send spacecraft into orbit to ultimately swarm asteroids to mine natural resources like water and platinum group metals. The company has doubled in size since last year and recently inked a big partnership with Bechtel Corporation, the largest construction and engineering company in the U.S.
“We’re just having a blast,” Diamandis said. “I’m very proud of the team for really knocking down barrier after barrier.”
For a visual look at the new campaign, here’s a rather large infographic from Planetary: