News From Space: Arkyd Telescope and Shenzhou 10

spacex-icarus-670It seems that every day, the frontiers of space exploration are being pushed. In recent months, two stories occurred close to home (relatively speaking) that have stuck out in my memory. The first had to do with Planetary Resources plan to commission the world’s first crowdfunded telescope. The second came from China, where the new Shenzou 10 space ship launched on its way to dock with the prototype Tiangong-1 space station.

These stories were both groundbreaking for a number of reasons. Arkyd’s plan for a publicly-owned and funded telescope is not only an historic first, its also a major step forward in the creation of a new era of space exploration, one which is far more open and democratic than before. The second story represents a major leap for China as a major power, and their plans to conduct research aboard the Tiangong-1 shows a commitment to opening their space program to the public.

ARKYD-in-SpaceAnd as it happens, there have been recent developments on both fronts. On June 20th, less than a week ago, the Arkyd space telescope passed their goal of $1 million with its Kickstarter campaign. But perhaps to keep the money flowing, the company announced an ambitious aim to add extrasolar planet searching  to the list they can double that goal to $2 million.

And they’ve set some other fundraising milestones just to keep things interesting:

  • $1.3 million: A ground station at an undisclosed “educational partner” that would double the download speed of data from the orbiting observatory.
  • $1.5 million: This goal, just released yesterday, is aimed at the more than 20,000 people who signed up for “space selfies” incentive where uploaded pictures are photographed on the telescope while it is in orbit. For this goal, “beta selfies” will be taken while the telescope is in the integration phase of the build.
  • $1.7 million: The milestone will be announced if Arkyd reaches 15,000 backers. (It has more than 12,000 as of this

With five days remaining and a total of $1,189,359 now raised, they are not likely to break that ceiling. Still, the company’s plan to begin prospecting asteroids for the sake of future mining efforts now seems well within reach. Best of luck to them!

shenzhou10_tiangong1As for China’s Shenzhou 10, in an event that was captured on film, the space module is now docked with the Tiangong-1 space station and made a scenic transit in front of the sun. Astrophotographer Terry Legault had less than half a second to capture these incredible shots, but managed to get not one, but two shots in two consecutive days. Not an easy task to pull off, let alone twice!

If you look closely at the picture above, you can just make out Tiangong-1 station to the right of the sun, located below and to the left of a large cluster of sun spots. This top image is a crop of a full-face view of the Sun, taken with white light filters by Thierry from southern France on June 16, just after noon UTC. The transit duration was just 0.46 seconds, the distance of the spacecraft to observer was 365 km away, and the spacecraft was traveling at 7.4km/s (26,500 km/h or 16,500 mph).

shenzhou10_tiangong3This second imagine was taken the next day, again from the south of France, at 12:34:24 UTC on June 17, 2013. This one, in Hydrogen-alpha shows the Shenzhou-10/Tiangong-1 complex in multiple shots over the 0.46 second transit. Click on the photo to get the full resolution, then zoom in to see multiple shots of station as it made its transit across the face of the sun.

In a previous interview with Universe Today, Thierry explained how he prepares to take images like these:

For transits I have to calculate the place, and considering the width of the visibility path is usually between 5-10 kilometers, but I have to be close to the center of this path, because if I am at the edge, it is just like a solar eclipse where the transit is shorter and shorter. And the edge of visibility line of the transit lasts very short. So the precision of where I have to be is within one kilometer.”

Legault studies maps, and has a radio synchronized watch to know very accurately when the transit event will happen.

My camera has a continuous shuttering for 4 seconds, so I begin the sequence 2 seconds before the calculated time. I don’t look through the camera – I never see the space station when it appears, I am just looking at my watch!

Kudos to the man for once again capturing images of the heavens and sharing them with the world. And exciting times these are, when space exploration is once again booming and the frontiers of tomorrow are increasingly within our reach.

Sources:, (2),

The Arkyd 100: Crowdfunding Space Exploraiton

ARKYD-in-SpacePlanetary Resources made quite the impression last year when they announced their plans to begin prospecting near-Earth asteroids with in the intention of mining them in the near future. Alongside such companies as SpaceX and Golden Spike, they are part of a constellations of private interests looking to establish commercial space travel and tourism. But their latest proposal goes a step further, bringing crowdfunding and the realm of space exploration together.

That’s the idea behind a Kickstarter campaign that the company began to raise money for a crowdfunded space telescope. Known as the Arkyd 100, the company claims that this new telescope will provide unprecedented public access to space and place the most advanced exploration technology into the hands of students, scientists and a new generation of citizen explorers.

asteroid_miningTo make their campaign successful, they need to raise $1 million in Kickstarter pledges by the end of June 2013. Once the telescope is up and running, it will allow them to better map the asteroid belt, thus assisting them in finding the rocks they want to mine for precious metals and trace elements. And with public financial backers making it happen, anyone pledging money will be able to own a piece of the prospector!

During a webcast on May 28th to announce the Kickstarter campaign, Chris Lewicki, President and Chief Engineer for Planetary Resources, gave a rundown on the details of the telescope. And interestingly enough, the Planetary Resources’ technical team that designed it also worked on every recent U.S. Mars lander and rover. So if you do choose to invest, you will do so with the knowledge that the same people who helped build the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers are behind this project. If that doesn’t inspire investor confidence, I don’t know what will!

ARKYD-Space-SelfieA wide array of scientists, space enthusiasts and even Bill Nye the Science Guy have voiced their support for Planetary Resources’ new public space telescope. And those who invest will have the chance of recouping certain rewards, depending on how much they choose to pledge. Those pledging the minimum donation of $25 will receive the “Your Face in Space” benefit, where you will have you picture placed on the Arkyd and receive a picture of said photo the telescope with Earth in the background. Higher pledges will provide access to the telescope for students and researchers worldwide.

After less than 2 hours into their campaign, Planetary Resources had raised over $100,000. And as of this article’s writing, just one day shy of a week, the campaign has reached $710,945 of their $1 million goal, and they still have 27 days left. I guess people want a piece of this project. And who can blame them, since it is a scientific and historic first!

Check out the promotional video for the Arkyd and Planetary Resources below. To make a donation or get information about the Kickstarter campaign, visit the campaign page here.