If you can’t go to space, will you be content to have a picture of you orbiting Earth?
That’s the proposal that an asteroid-mining company is floating now to the general public via the crowdfunding website Kickstarter. The company posted the bid Wednesday and intends to see how many respondents put up contributions over the month ahead before deciding whether to proceed.
The company, Planetary Resources, based in Bellevue, Washington, is specifically proposing to launch a small space-based telescope into orbit around Earth. Customers will be able to pay $25 each to have personal photos displayed billboard-style on a film screen on the telescope’s outer wall, with the Earth as a backdrop. A remote camera will snap the images and transmit them back for the customers to add to their own albums.
Alternatively, the customers can “rent” the telescope and use it to look at an object far off in space. This VIP option will run at $200, according to the company.
It remains unclear whether the telescope will have any capacity to observe any objects beyond the moon. By comparison, the Hubble Space Telescope has already cost around $2.35 billion by some estimates, while the James Webb Space Telescope, set for launch before the end of the decade, has already cost $8.8 billion.
Planetary Resources would like to launch its first telescope in 2015. But first, it has set a goal of raising $1 million by June 30. If it meets this benchmark, it will take that as a sign that the market demand is there and that it should proceed. If it succeeds, it will be the world’s first crowdfunded space telescope.
As of May 30, it’s nearly halfway there with more than $473,000 pledged. More startup capital has come in from Larry Page, Google’s chief executive; and Eric Schmidt, Google’s chairman; as well as from Ross Perot Jr., chairman of the real-estate development firm Hillwood and the Perot Group.
Planetary Resources was founded initially to explore asteroids. Humans don’t currently have any use for asteroids, but the company’s founders hope to change that. The asteroids’ mineral and water reserves could be highly valuable resources, they argue, and they look forward to mining missions in the near future tapping some of the 1,500 asteroids that lie within relative proximity to Earth.
Other space companies have raised funds from crowdsourcing sites. None, however, has raised anywhere close to Planetary Resources’ million-dollar goal. For example, Golden Spike, a Colorado venture that is planning human expeditions to the moon, raised $75,000 on Indiegogo but then failed to raise $240,000 for spacesuits for the premier lunar mission. Another company, the Virginia-based Hyper-V Technologies, raised $73,000 for development of a plasma jet electric thruster. And STAR Systems of Phoenix, Arizona, scored $20,000 to partially fund a hybrid rocket motor for a suborbital spacecraft.
The announcement also comes as the number of private space companies has skyrocketed in recent years. A number of companies, including two headed by Virgin’s Richard Branson and SpaceX’s Elon Musk, have already begun testing vehicles capable of traveling to the edge of space and back within a few weeks.