Commercial space travel has become increasingly mainstream in the past decade, from "space tourism" flights to NASA's public-private partnerships with SpaceX and others. But the latest push isn't just to take space into the private sector — it's to get citizens involved in the process. Copenhagen Suborbitals and other grass-roots efforts are trying to essentially crowdfund space, raising tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to put small craft into orbit. And one of the latest, called Pocket Spacecraft, hopes to do so with a "personalized spacecraft" for each of its backers.
The Pocket Spacecraft isn't quite as exciting as it sounds, but it's still pretty unique. If you put more than £19 (about $30) into the project, you'll get partial or complete ownership of a "scout" spacecraft, which is a small flexible disc equipped with solar cells, a metal antenna, and a number of sensors. They can be customized with something as simple as a printed message or as complex as extra hardware or self-written software that will let the scout gather data about its surroundings. After the launch, "owners" will be able to track the craft and find out more about the information it's collecting.
If the Kickstarter raises its requisite £290,000 ($440,000) by August 26th, the scouts will be loaded en masse into the larger "Interplanetary CubeSat Mothership" seen above, which will itself piggyback on an existing spacecraft on a trip to the Moon. Once the Mothership reaches its destination, it will release the smaller scouts, which can theoretically move around space with small solar sails and even survive a trip through some atmospheres.
The Pocket Spacecraft Kickstarter opened just a few days before another space-focused Kickstarter will close. Asteroid mining startup Planetary Resources is a few hours away from getting over a million dollars in funding for its Arkyd space telescope, which can be used by schools or research centers as well as the team looking for suitable asteroids. The Pocket Spacecraft is being sold with a similar angle; students are urged to learn about coding and astronomy by booking a "seat" on a scout spacecraft.
While Planetary Resources is backed by a number of tech superstars (including James Cameron and Sergey Brin), the Pocket Satellite project was created by a group of volunteers who have worked on a number of other crowdfunded space endeavors, including KickSat, one of the very first efforts to crowdfund a space launch. KickSat was a similar mini-spacecraft project, and it's currently set to be launched with help from NASA at some point in 2013.