(Left) ARKYD prototype, smaller than I expected. (Right) Example of a "space selfie," marriage proposals space-bound! (via Planetary Resources)
The Hubble space telescope captured some of the most astonishing pictures of the cosmos. It could see significantly further than any other telescope on Earth, due in part to no atmosphere getting in the way. The company Planetary Resources has launched a Kickstarter to fund a space telescope that could deliver new images of space and its offering its contributors a chance at taking a picture of themselves with the Earth as backdrop or at least have a say in what the telescope is used for.
Planetary Resources is almost halfway funded towards a goal of 1 million dollars with about a month to go. If successful, the ARKYD “technologically advanced” orbital telescope will be sent out to orbit 300 to 450 miles away from the Earth’s surface.
The ARKYD is equipped with a robotic camera arm and screen on its side. These will be used to take pictures of Kickstarter contributors and given to them as “Space Selfies” for $25. For a $99 contribution, you can get 5 minutes to see whatever you please although the private telescope time and range of souvenirs varies widely with contribution. However, a more exciting aspect of this project is the democratization of the telescope’s use. Every contributor, no matter how much money they forked over, will have a vote in how the telescope is used and by what institutions. This arrangement aims at fueling public interest in space exploration and raise awareness about its potential.
Apart from giving the public a vote, the ARKYD is also meant to give students a chance to use the state of the art orbital telescope. Though it is quite smaller than the Hubble, the instrument has a 200 mm (7.8 in) aperture, f/4 primary optic, detection up to visual magnitude 19, resolution of about 1 arcsecond (similar to telescopes on Earth), 5 MP and captures wavelengths in the range of 200 nm to 1100 nm with the help of various filters. The cylindrical body of the ARKYD is just 17 in tall and weighs only 33 pounds. All components are powered by deployable solar cells.
The project is meant to support discovery and research like finding threatening asteroids or many of the other objects in our solar system. The ARKYD could also be used to monitor the conditions of ecosystems on Earth like how rainforests are dealing with deforestation. The ARKYD will be capable of working 24 hr per day 365 days a year using only 50 watts. Each day the telescope could take over 150 “space selfies” and be used in 15 other astronomical observations.
Of course, the company Planetary Resources plans to use the telescope to get a good look at what objects and locations could be mined in space and develop techniques and missions to collect them. Some short-term plans remain undefined, like what craft will set the telescope in orbit or who will offer the ARKYD a ride to space. Planetary Resources has also not provided a concrete plan on how public voting would occur or what criteria would be voted on. Needless to say, this is not your average Kickstarter and while there are lots of things to be hopeful for, there are many risks that must be accepted. Bill Nye as a supporter certainly helps!
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