At the end of May, Planetary Resources started a funding campaign through the crowdfunding system on the Kickstarter website to fund the launch of a Arkyd-100 space telescope. A few days ago the company stretched its goals promising to add the ability to detect exoplanets if the pledge will reach two million dollars.
Actually, the new targets are varied and two of them will be revealed if certain numbers of backers will be achieved. Planetary Resources stated that if the pledge will reach $1.3 million it will be possible to add a second ground station that will double the ability to download the information gathered by the Arkyd-100 space telescope.
The two secret objectives are linked to the achievement of $1.5 and $1.7 pledge and will be revealed when the backers will be 11,000 and 15,000. It looks like a way to stimulate the curiosity of the people interested in the project, who in this way may decide to contribute, even with a small pledge.
Certainly the most interesting of the new goals is the possibility of enhancing the Arkyd-100 space telescope so that it can also be used for the search for exoplanets. Planetary Resources explains, also with an image, that it intends to use the transit and gravitational microlensing methods to detect possible planets. The company would work with Sara Seager, a professor of physics and planetary sciences at MIT, one of the most important scientists who deal with exoplanets.
The problems experienced by the Kepler space telescope last month could leave NASA without its “planet hunter”. Even reaching the $2 million needed to build the enhanced version of the Arkyd-100, it’s clear that it wouldn’t be at the same level as Kepler, which cost about $600 million. It would still be an excellent scientific instrument to be used also for educational purposes.
At this moment, just over $900,000 have been pledged so the original project should start even if after the initial enthusiasm there was a sharp decline in the pledges. The problem is that the campaign will end on June 30 so the only hope to achieve the new goals is that they quickly lead to a new wave of pledges, especially from schools, universities and scientific institutions that may use the services of the Arkyd-100 space telescope.
It would be nice if some space agency also contributed to the Arkyd-100 space telescope extended project but we know that they always have budget problems so they use it all for their projects when they manage to get them approved. At this point, probably it will be up to Planetary Resources to decide whether to add the money needed, even through other sponsors, to build a new planet hunter.