Arkyd Telescope Reaches $1M Goal, But Still Looking For Planet-Hunting Funds

With more than $1 million in crowdfunded money secured for a public asteroid-hunting space telescope, the ultimate question arises: what about the promised planet chase?

Planetary Resources’ Arkyd-100 telescope reached its $1 million goal yesterday (June 20). But the self-proclaimed asteroid-hunting company has an ambitious aim to add extrasolar planet searching  to the list if it can double that goal to $2 million.

The Kickstarter campaign for Arkyd still has 10 days remaining. To keep the funds flowing, the group behind it has released several “stretch” goals if it can reach further milestones:

$1.3 million: A ground station at an undisclosed “educational partner” that would double the download speed of data from the orbiting observatory.

Example of an orbital 'selfie' that Planetary Resources' ARKYD telescope could provide to anyone who donates to their new Kickstarter campaign. Credit: Planetary Resources.
Example of an orbital ‘selfie’ that Planetary Resources’ ARKYD telescope could provide to anyone who donates to their new Kickstarter campaign. Credit: Planetary Resources.

$1.5 million: This goal, just released yesterday, is aimed at the more than 20,000 people who signed up for “space selfies” incentive where uploaded pictures are photographed on the telescope while it is in orbit. For this goal, “beta selfies” will be taken while the telescope is in the integration phase of the build.

$1.7 million: The milestone will be announced if Arkyd reaches 15,000 backers. (It has more than 12,000 as of this writing.)

$2 million: The telescope will hunt for alien planets. Planetary Resources added this goal last week following technical problems plaguing NASA’s Kepler space telescope that could derail the agency’s prolific planet finder.

Also, a hat-tip to NASA’s Peter Edmonds, who works in public affairs for the Chandra X-ray Observatory, for pointing out the campaign’s Kickstarter video in Klingon. Check it out below:

NASA’s Sci-Fi Vision: Robots Could Help Humanity Mine Asteroids

In a few generations of robotics, we’ll see mighty machines able to fully construct themselves and operate from the surface of asteroids — providing applications for mining, NASA researchers say in a new study.

The scientists are convinced that this type of research is not only possible, but also able to support itself financially. (Costs overruns are a notorious factor in space exploration as it pushes frontiers both literally and engineering-wise.)

“Advances in robotics and additive manufacturing have become game-changing for the prospects of space industry. It has become feasible to bootstrap a self-sustaining, self-expanding industry at reasonably low cost,” the researchers stated in a new study.

A couple of factors are pointing to this, researchers said: private industry is willing and able to get involved. Advances in technologies such as 3-D printing are making off-world work more feasible. Also, humanity’s surveys of space resources has revealed the elements needed to make rubber, plastic and alloys needed for machinery.

NASA proposes a robotic flotilla could mine nearby space rocks. They caution the technology won’t be ready tomorrow, and more surveys will need to be done of nearby asteroids to figure out where to go next. There is, however, enough progress to see building blocks, the agency stated.

An artist's conception of a space exploration vehicle approaching an asteroid. Credit: NASA
An artist’s conception of a space exploration vehicle approaching an asteroid. Credit: NASA

“Robots and machines would just make the metal and propellants for starters,” stated Phil Metzger, a senior research physicist at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, who led the study.

“The first generation of robots makes the second generation of hardware, except the comparatively lightweight electronics and motors that have to be sent up from Earth. It doesn’t matter how much the large structures weigh because you didn’t have to launch it.”

A computer model in the study showed that in six generations of robotics, these machines will be able to construct themselves and operate without any need of materials from Earth.

Artist impression of the Arkyd Interceptor, a low cost asteroid mission that enables accelerated exploration. Credit: Planetary Resources.
Artist impression of the Arkyd Interceptor, a low cost asteroid mission that enables accelerated exploration. Credit: Planetary Resources.

At least two startups would agree with the optimism: Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources.

In the past year, members of both firms have proposed asteroid mining ideas, and since then, Planetary Resources has also unveiled other projects such as a public space telescope (perhaps in a bid to diversify revenues and attract more attention.)

In early 2013, when NASA submitted its fiscal budget request for 2014, it also got in on the hubbub: the agency proposed robotically venturing out to an asteroid and bringing it back to Earth.

That’s received many questions from critics (including at least one government space committee), but NASA has argued it is feasible and a way to unite innovation across various sectors.

“Because asteroids are loaded with minerals that are rare on Earth, near-Earth asteroids and the asteroid belt could become the mining centers for remotely-operated excavators and processing machinery,” NASA stated.

Asteroid 951 Gaspra
Asteroid 951 Gaspra. Credit: NASA

“In the future, an industry could develop to send refined materials, rare metals and even free, clean energy to Earth from asteroids and other bodies.”

Check out more details of the new report in the Journal of Aerospace Engineering.

A side note, this isn’t the only NASA-funded group looking at asteroid mining. In September, NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts office offered Phase 1 funding to a Robotic Asteroid Prospector proposal.

Source: NASA