Space exploration company Planetary Resources is scuttling a Kickstarter-backed project that would let backers take "selfies" via space telescope, after getting funding for a separate project. Earlier this week, the company posted an update on the plan to launch one of its Arkyd telescopes into orbit as a publicly accessible resource, saying that public interest had failed to translate into outside investment. It has offered a full refund to the over 17,600 people who pledged a total of $1.5 million during the campaign.
"When we closed the campaign in June of 2013, we were confident that the tremendous enthusiasm from around the world would translate into continued financial support outside of the Kickstarter community to move our idea forward," wrote Planetary Resources president and CEO Chris Lewicki. "But, what we discovered was unfortunate. Aside from all the progress we made in the underlying technology, the follow-on interest from the business and educational sectors to expand the Arkyd campaign into a fully-supported mission did not exist as we had anticipated." The project would have allowed backers to point the telescope in a direction of their choosing (except the Sun) and photograph a projected image of themselves against the vacuum of space — hence, a space selfie.
The new project will analyze natural resources on Earth
Lewicki said that the team had completed several of the projects secondary goals, including successfully launching an Arkyd-3 test craft in 2015 and prepping for the launch of two more advanced Arkyd-6 satellites this summer. As Geekwire reports, it also created an asteroid-hunting app in partnership with NASA. But the company is largely moving toward more immediately practical business applications. The same day it posted the Kickstarter cancellation, it announced a $21.1 million investment in a program called Ceres, which would equip 10 Arkyd satellites with sensors to measure the composition of materials on Earth's surface, providing detailed information about natural resources.
Planetary Resources suggests that Ceres could be used to monitor water quality, spot wildfires, or identify new energy or mineral sources on the planet. It's an inverted version of the company's initial goal: to find and analyze near-Earth asteroids that could be mined for rare materials by robots. This goal, the company stated in a press release, is still on the books, although there's no timeframe for completing it. "Our team has been working on the critical technologies required to detect and identify the most commercially viable near-Earth asteroids and their resources," said Lewicki in the statement. "We have also created new technologies for onboard computing, low-cost space platforms, and are now applying these transformative technologies in additional markets."
Planetary Resources was one of a number of quixotic space startups that announced big plans around 2012 and 2013. While it hasn't realized its goal, it's doing better than some of them. Golden Spike, which aimed to offer commercial space flights to the Moon, appears to have last talked about its plans in 2014. Mars One, which planned to send a crew of civilian volunteers selected partially via reality TV series to live on Mars for the rest of their lives, has come under scrutiny for the feasibility of this idea. An asteroid mining startup similar to Planetary Resources, though, has also managed to hang on. Deep Space Industries, which focused on asteroid mining and — judging by its graphic design — recreating the video game Dead Space in real life, was recently selected to help build satellites for a recently announced maritime tracking and emergency response service called HawkEye 360.