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July 08, 2013

Planetary Resources Raises $1.5 Million in Kickstarter Campaign

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

Planetary Resources, an asteroid mining company, recently closed its 33-day Kickstarter campaign with a tad over $1.5 million dollars from 17,600 backers for the world’s first crowdfunded space telescope. Among the hype closing out the campaign earlier this week was a $100,000 contribution by Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Group and an announcement that he is joining the core group of investors.

Launched last month, Planetary Resources’ campaign featured an initial goal of raising at least $1 million, followed by various "stretch" goals with an ultimate benchmark of raising $2 million via Kickstarter. The campaign hit intermediate goals for building a second ground station at the site of an "educational partner" for downlinking "Space Selfie" pictures and astronomy data returns, a "Beta Selfie" digital picture taken during clean-room integration of an ARKYD space telescope, and a teaming arrangement with Zooniverse to develop a public "Asteroid Zoo" asteroid-finding platform.

The effort didn't hit a stretch goal of $1.9 million, the funding level set for adding exoplanet detection capability by enhancing spacecraft stability systems and dedicating time to look at candidate star systems.

Contributors to the campaign will get perks once an operational ARKYD is launched in 2015. A $25 donation gets a digital "Selfie" self-portrait taken in orbit with the backdrop of the satellite and earth while $200 gives anyone the ability to point the telescope at any object or point in space (other than the sun). Higher level contributors bought various size space telescope observation packs for donation to an educational institution (K-12 school, university, museum, etc.).

New investor Branson, chairman of the Virgin Group, said, “I’m excited to be part of the Planetary Resources’ team working on extracting precious minerals from near-Earth asteroids. The only way to truly explore our Solar System is to develop the technology and means to sustain our presence in space without depleting resources of Earth.” 

Virgin Galactic and Planetary Resources have a previously established relationship, with Planetary planning to launch Arkyd-100 space telescopes into orbit using the to-be-built LauncherOne air launched booster when it becomes available. There's no announced timetable on when LauncherOne will be available, since Virgin is currently focused on getting its passenger-carrying suborbital SpaceShipTwo into commercial service by the end of this year.

Exactly how much money Branson has contributed to Planetary was not announced. The company has been coy about the total amount of money it has raised from its core group of well-heeled private investors, including Google executives Eric Schmidt (News - Alert) and Larry Page, Ross Perot Jr., K. Ram Shriram, and former Microsoft executive Charles Simonyi.  

To put its Kickstarter campaign into perspective, Planetary will need anywhere from $25 million to $30 million in order to build and launch its first few satellites into orbit.

Edited by Rachel Ramsey

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