MSNBC Cosmislog – Lewicki hopes the personal space telescope will do for astronomy what the personal computer did for information technology. Planetary Resources plans to put the instrument into Earth orbit to survey the sky for potential targets — asteroids that come close enough to Earth often enough to make them reachable, and have a spectral signal that would make them good candidates for mining. The main target is C-type or carbonaceous asteroids, which are dark and not so easy to detect with existing instruments.
The Arkyd-101 telescope is designed to be launched on any of a variety of rockets, including the Russian Dnepr, the European Ariane, the Indian PSLV or the SpaceX Falcon. It would have arcsecond resolution for astronomical observations, and if the camera were turned earthward, Lewicki said the resolution would be a “couple of meters per pixel,” which comes close to the standard for commercial Earth imaging.
The key factor is the cost: Lewicki noted that an imaging instrument like NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer would typically cost hundreds of millions of dollars. “We’re looking to go one to two orders of magnitude below that,” Lewicki said.
Planetary Resources has developed the Arkyd-101 space telescope with remote sensing capability, as shown in this artist’s conception. Data gathered from near-Earth asteroids will assist in analyzing the composition of the body to determine a commercial value.
Diamandis said that price reduction would significantly widen the market for orbiting telescopes. “We’re in discussions with groups that might want to buy personal telescopes,” he told me.
He said about 20 engineers have already been hired to work on the project, with operations based in the Seattle area. The need to advertise for more employees was one of the reasons why Planetary Resources’ principals decided it was time to go public with their plans, Diamandis said.
He and Lewicki are projecting the first launch of hardware in the 18- to 24-month time frame. Once the telescopes are up and running, the team will identify likely candidates for future missions. That would require additional spacecraft in the Arkyd product line, such as an in-space propulsion vehicle and an experimental resource-extraction package.
“Three, four, five years out, depending on trajectory, is when we envision getting up close and personal with an asteroid,” Lewicki said.