It was just over a year ago, back in April 2012, that we first learned the intentions of a company known as Planetary Resources: asteroid mining. As in going into space, finding an asteroid that's not-too-far from Earth, and mining it for precious minerals and/or water which could be used as space-fuel for other missions. In a word: ambitious.
A couple of months later, we learned that Planetary Resources was considering letting your average Joe in on the action by using the crowd-funding site Kickstarter. A little odd for a company whose investors include Google's Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, James Cameron and Ross Perot Jr, but part of the idea seemed to get people really interested (and, literally, invested) in space exploration. Rumoured backer rewards included things like being able to take photos with one of the exploratory satellites. All has been quiet since last June, but we just got a hot tip that it's now officially official, and the Kickstarter Project has just gone live.
See, in order to mine asteroids, Planetary Resources are going to deploy three different types of spacecraft. The first step is the Arkyd 100, a small, relatively inexpensive satellite with a telescope that will be put into Earth's orbit. These satellite telescopes are what they will use to identify the best potential asteroids. This Kickstarter is doing something unique, though, they are putting the controls of one of Arkyd 100s into your hands.
The lower-end rewards include a space "selfie". For $25, a picture of your choosing will display on the Arkyd's screen, and it will take a picture of itself with the Earth in the background. That doesn't give you any actual control over the Arkyd, but that's still pretty damn cool. As you get into higher pledges, you get to do stuff like the ability to use the Arkyd to take a picture of anything you want, in space or on Earth. For more money, you can keep track of that spot, or take a series of photos. You can also donate your time to science or to schools. Planetary Resources is going to make extra time available for educational endeavours.
The Kickstarter attempting to raise $US1 million in 32 days, which is obviously a lot, but we've seen video games reach for (and achieve) $US2 million goals before. What's interesting is that for that relatively small amount, it seems that Planetary Resources isn't looking to fund its loftier goals (asteroid mining), it seems more that they are trying to cover the costs of giving an open space satellite to the world, which is something we've never seen before. At a time when NASA budgets are getting slashed like crazy, we're dying to get people more interested in science and space exploration. By democratising a part of it, that might just be the spark needed to fuel the imagination of a new generation of scientists. At least we hope so. How many more stockbrokers do we need? [Kickstarter]