Crowdsourced Asteroid-Hunting Telescope a Hit

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A crowd-funding campaign to include public participation in a planned privately owned asteroid-hunting telescope was closing in on the halfway point of a $1 million goal — in its first day.

Washington-based Planetary Resources unveiled its Kickstarter project on Wednesday to gauge the public’s appetite for space exploration.

The telescope, called ARKYD,  is the initial component of a wide-ranging plan to mine near-Earth orbiting asteroids for metals, minerals and other materials. It is being designed and built by Planetary Resources, whose investors include Google founders Larry Page and Eric Schmidt.

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Planetary Resources president and chief engineer Chris Lewicki tells Discovery News that the idea to launch a Kickstarter campaign was a way to respond to hundreds of emails, offers, ideas, job applications and general interest that had been inundating the company since it outlined its plans last year.

“We’re not going to spend our time and resources to do something if people don’t want it and really the only way to prove that it’s something people want is to ask them for money,” company co-founder Eric Anderson added during a press conference on Wednesday.

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At the highest level of support, participants can gift telescope time to a school so students can make astronomical observations. For a $200 pledge, backers can use the telescope themselves. A $25 commitment buys use of a virtual “space photo booth,” an innovative project to let participants send a picture of themselves or anything else of their choosing that will be displayed on a monitor attached to the outside of the telescope. A remote camera on the spacecraft then will take a picture of the picture, with  Earth in the background, and transmit it back.

Crowd-funding has become a popular route for space startups. Golden Spike, which aspires to build, launch and operate commercial missions on the moon, ran two campaigns on Indiegogo, another crowd-funding platform. The first, to raise $75,000 for a related space-funding firm called Uwingu, exceeded its goal. The other, to raise $240,000 for moon exploration work, brought in less than $20,000.

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Last year, LiftPort, which is developing technology for an alternative transportation system known as “space elevators”, shattered its $8,000 Kickstarter campaign goal and ended up with more than $110,000 in 21 days.

Planetary Resources is aiming to launch its first telescope in 2015.

Image credit: Planetary Resources