Two months after unveiling an ambitious asteroid mining plan, billionaire-backed startup Planetary Resources decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign. "We've had so many people writing us and saying 'Hey, can we be involved in finding those asteroids?'" said co-founder Peter Diamandis in a 2012 promotional video. The Arkyd space telescope series was intended to probe for near-earth asteroids, but almost from the beginning, Planetary Resources envisioned its first models being used in some way by the public, both to democratize space exploration and to provide publicity for the nascent project. Now, almost a full year later, that Kickstarter is finally launching — and Planetary Resources' mission is lurching forward.
Planetary Resources' new project may be the definitive promotional Kickstarter. The company names Eric Schmidt and Larry Page as investors, and director James Cameron is on the board of advisors. Based on previous statements, the million dollars it's asking for in crowdfunding won't pay for a single Arkyd launch. And Diamandis has said before that the overall mission will proceed regardless of its success on Kickstarter. Instead, that million dollars will fund a public face for the telescope.
An "enhanced" Arkyd telescope will be launched with a camera and screen, giving ordinary people the ability to see what's going on. Planetary Resources will also develop educational materials to go with it. Diamandis and others will explain more details on a webcast starting at 1pm ET; at 6:30pm ET, they'll be joined by Brent Spiner, better known as Star Trek's Lieutenant Commander Data.
For $25, the telescope will shoot your photo in space
If it passes the million-dollar goal, the Kickstarter will pay for extra access by museums, classrooms, or science centers, creating a space-themed curriculum that incorporates the Arkyd. Planetary Resources is also touting a series of perks for backers. At $25, it offers a "space selfie," uploading a photo of the user onto the Arkyd's screen and snapping a picture with Earth in the background. Larger pledges allow astronomers or schools to conduct observations using the telescope. The very top tiers will let backers attend the final unveiling and sign the spacecraft.
The first full-scale Arkyd prototype was unveiled in January, and the team has previously set a tentative launch date of 2014; that's now been pushed back to the second half of 2015. If the Arkyd-100 series telescopes launch successfully, they will have made the first step towards the ultimate goal of mining asteroids for water and precious metals by the early 2020s. Diamandis, like many others, has painted space exploration as a way to bring humanity into a brighter future: asteroid mining and off-world colonies are a convenient shorthand for utopian optimism. As Mars One plans a reality TV show set in a Martian colony, he's also not the only one to reach out to the public. Long-shot space startups have promised us the moon, but so far, even the best-funded have yet to take off.