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Asteroid-hunting venture wants you ... to suggest crowdfunding projects

Planetary Resources

The Arkyd-101 space telescope, shown in this artist's conception, represents the first spacecraft to be developed by Planetary Resources as part of an asteroid scouting and mining venture.

Planetary Resources, the billionaire-backed private venture that's aiming to hunt down and mine near-Earth asteroids, is looking for suggestions about projects that could attract extra funding through Kickstarter-style campaigns.

In a Web posting, co-founder Peter Diamandis says that in the month and a half since the asteroid-mining project was unveiled, he and his colleagues "have been overwhelmed at the response from people begging to know how they can get involved." In an associated email blast, Diamandis and the company's other co-founder, Eric Anderson, say they've gotten hundreds of emails asking about the project.

The company — which counts Google billionaires Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, space billionaire Charles Simonyi and Texas billionaire Ross Perot Jr. among its investors — has said it plans to launch its first asteroid-hunting space telescope, the Arkyd-100, within two years. But what Diamandis and Anderson really want to do is launch 10 to 15 of the 44-pound (20-kilogram) telescopes in the next three years. 

"To offer you a chance to actually get involved, we’ve been tossing around the idea of adding additional capacity in our production run, and either offering you access to a portion of our orbiting spacecraft — or — if there’s enough demand, actually build you an additional Space Telescope for your own use," Diamandis wrote. "We'd probably do this through a Kickstarter campaign, but ONLY if there's enough interest."

Among the ideas that Diamandis is floating:

  • $100 for a chance to direct the Arkyd-100 and take a high-resolution photograph of anyplace on Earth, or a celestial body.
  • A desktop-scale model of the Arkyd-100.
  • A half-day at the controls of a satellite, allowing you to take up to 50 photos from space.
  • Invitations to the Planetary Resources launch party.

The suggestion box (which also serves as a ballot box for the suggestions) takes the form of a Facebook-style comment section on Diamandis' Web posting. Thirty comments, plus comments on the comments, piled up in the first hour since Diamandis issued his invitation.

Planetary Resources co-founder Peter Diamandis invites private citizens to submit suggestions for potential Kickstarter space-telescope projects.

Planetary Resources isn't the only venture trying to take advantage of the crowdfunding model. Last week I wrote about the ArduSat project, which involves another guy named Peter (high-energy physicist and former Wall Street investment manager Peter Platzer). ArduSat's organizers are seeking $35,000 in Kickstarter pledges for the development of a sensor-laden nanosatellite that could be run as an orbital time-share. As of this writing, the pledge amount is at $31,631 with 24 days to go — which means it's virtually certain ArduSat will hit its funding target.

I also mentioned the DreamUp project, which is offering space on the International Space Station's experimental racks for student-built experiments at rates as low as $15,500. DreamUp is a partnership involving NanoRacks and the Conrad Foundation, and has the added twist that American Express Membership Rewards points can be redeemed to cover the cost of flying an experiment.

Meanwhile, the nonprofit B612 Foundation says it's getting ready to unveil a privately funded, multimillion-dollar space telescope project to monitor the inner solar system for potentially threatening asteroids.

Am I crazy, or is there some sort of snowball effect kicking in? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.

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Alan Boyle is msnbc.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.