Planetary Resources Announces Crowdsourcing Campaign – update

Planetary Resources Announces Crowdsourcing Campaign – update

UPDATE:  June 20, 2013:  Planetary Resources has reached its $1 million goal.

ORIGINAL STORY, May 29, 2013:  The “unprecedented project that will change the way humanity explores the cosmos” promised by Planetary Resources Inc. turned out to be a Kickstarter crowdsourcing campaign to raise $1 million for portions of its ARKYD space telescope project.  The “unprecedented” part apparently is that “the crowd” will have a voice in what targets the very small telescope observes.

A bungled webcast might have been a bad portent for the prospective asteroid mining company, but within two hours of the press conference that was available only to reporters on site at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, Planetary Resources raised 10 percent of its $1 million goal.  A second part of the event, which also is supposed to be livestreamed, is scheduled for this afternoon.

The company proclaimed earlier this week that it would be “opening the space frontier to all.”   Details were to be presented today at a press conference at 10:00 am Pacific (1:00 pm Eastern) followed by a “community” event (3:30 pm Pacific, 6:30 pm Eastern) featuring Brent Spiner, the actor who portrayed Data on Star Trek: Next Generation.  Both events were to be livestreamed. The livestreaming did not work for the first event.  Hopefully the technical issues will be fixed for the second.  

Meanwhile, the company issued a press release explaining what they had trumpeted as an “unprecedented project that will change the way humanity explores the cosmos.”  It is a Kickstarter campaign to raise $1 million.  The money will not be used to pay for the ARKYD space telescope itself, but to —

  • launch the telescope
  • fund the creation of the user interface
  • cover the fulfillment costs for all the products and services in the pledge levels (which range from $10 to $10,000), and
  • fund the immersive educational curriculum for students everywhere

The company’s mission is to mine asteroids and it plans to build space telescopes to search for suitable targets.  That is not what this telescope is for, however,  The Kickstarter page states that “this satellite is very different from those that we intend to launch for the purpose of locating asteroids.”   It is a 15 kilogram (33 pound) satellite that will be 425 millimeters (16.7 inches) in length when deployed in space, with a wingspan of 600 mm (23.6 inches) and peak power of 50 watts.

What Planetary Resources asserts is unprecedented is that it will be the first “publicly accessible space telescope” that will be “controlled by YOU, the crowd.”   What that actually means is difficult to discern from the company’s prose on Kickstarter.   One section says “you can use your telescope time” to do certain things while another asks “don’t know what object in space you’d want to take a picture of?”, implying that individual contributors will be directing the spacecraft to look at certain objects.   Other sections, however, suggest the opposite.  For example, that phrase about how ARKYD will be “controlled by YOU, the crowd” goes on to say “through your pledges and community involvement.”  Later the text explains that “you’ll get the opportunity to help decide which science centers and museums are the beneficiaries of ARKYD telescope time,” and contributors will “get voting access to make your voice heard in the future direction of the satellite!”

Whatever the company is actually promising, its public relations strategy appears to be working.  Within two hours of the press conference, even without the webcast, the company raised over $100,000,10 percent of its goal.  Pledges can be made through June 30.

Planetary Resources Inc. has an august list of backers, including Google’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, and Ross Perot Jr.   Peter Diamandis and Eric Anderson founded the company in 2009.

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