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Your chance to share in a space telescope

Paul Sutherland, Feature writer
May 30, 2013, 7:00 UTC

Sen—Space enthusiasts are being offered the chance to share in funding the construction, launch and operation of a mini version of the Hubble telescope in orbit.

Asteroid mining company Planetary Resources yesterday revealed a crowdfunding project for the space telescope to give ordinary people unprecedented access to viewing the Universe.

The company, formed of a collection of tycoons and space engineers, announced last year its plans to exploit passing asteroids for the valuable minerals that they contain.

An important first step in that goal was to be the launch of a constellation of ARKYD 100 robotic telescopes that would be used to discover small asteroids.

Now Planetary Resources has declared that it wants the public involved in getting the first of these into orbit by launching a campaign to raise one million US dollars via the Kickstarter platform on the web.

With billionaire investors including Google’s Eric Schmidt and Larry Page behind them, the company could clearly find the cash for themselves. But they are doing it to demonstrate popular support for space activities and to put the most advanced exploration technology into the hands of students, scientists and to inspire a new generation of citizen explorers.

Planetary Resources’ president and chief engineer is Chris Lewicki who was Flight Director for the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, and Surface Mission Manager for Phoenix lander.

He said: “I’ve operated rovers and landers on Mars, and now I can share that incredible experience with everyone. People of any age and background will be able to point the telescope outward to investigate our Solar System, deep space, or join us in our study of near-Earth asteroids.”

Your picture in space

An impression of how a SpaceSelfie photo will be captured in orbit. Credit: Planetary Resources

Peter H. Diamandis, who co-founded the company with Eric Anderson of Space Adventures, said: “When we launched Planetary Resources last year, we had an extraordinary response from the general public. Tens of thousands of people contacted us and wanted to be involved. We are using this Kickstarter campaign as a mechanism to engage the community in a productive way.”

He added, “In the last 50 years, space exploration has been led by national governmental agencies with their own set of priorities, and now we’re changing the nature of exploration. We’re developing the most advanced space technology ever made available to the public. Let’s explore the cosmos together!”

The Kickstarter campaign will run until June 30 and offers varying levels of pledges. Already the most popular, dubbed the SpaceSelfie, is the US $25 option that will get a snapshot of you uploaded to a screen on the ARKYD 100 telescope. There a photo of it will be taken with the Earth in the background to be sent to you as an incredible memento.

Higher pledge levels allow students, astronomers and researchers to use the ARKYD 100 to make their own observations of galaxies, asteroids and planets. And the highest pledge levels allow schools, science centres, universities, or other groups access to the telescope for educational programmes.

Chris Lewicki describes how the ARKYD 100 crowdfunding project will work. Credit: Planetary Resources