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There is almost too much to report in this area without a National Georgraphic-level glossy magazine, but two of the most important areas are worth focusing on indvidually: The Planetary Resources crowd-funded Arkyd space telescope has met and exceeded its fundraising goal of $1 million, and concluded with over $1,500,000 given by over 17,600 backers.  Arkyd is a small, commoditzed, state-of-the-art automated space telescope that indidividuals could buy time on at affordable prices to look celestial objects or at Earth, and also buy high-definition photographs of images of themselves displayed on the telescope itself with Earth and space in the background.  And it's just the beginning.


Planetary Resources envisions this telescope and its future brethren being operated by public schools for children to learn space-exploration hands-on, by doing it.  They would search for stars, planets, moons, comets, or asteroids, and have at least a chance at generating new data that is of interest to the scientific community, and would have a serious chance of being the first person to ever see a given thing!  In the future, your school's space telescope could be like your school's pets or garden is today: A hands-on learning experience that cultivates an understanding and appreciation for so much more than mere textbooks and lectures could manage.

And it's not just a toy for kids: It's a serious space telescope with real capabilities that genuine astronomical researchers will be using in their investigations.  While not on the absolute performance level of something like the Hubble Space Telescope, Arkyd radically ups the ante technologically for miniatruziation, cost-effectiveness, simplicity, and manufacturability, which is why Planetary Resources foresees mass-producing and possibly coordinating them in the future to achieve results that blow highly expensive, Baroque systems like Hubble or the James Webb Space Telescope out of the water in aggregate.

It isn't just for space either: Once they have Arkyd and its successors in orbit, people will be able to buy time for Earth-observation as well, so you could theatrically put down a bit of money, appoint a date and time, walk out your front door, use a compass to know exactly where to look, and then wave at the sky at the right time.  And voila, you'd be able to download the satellite image of yourself waving not long afterward (weather permitting).  The bread and butter service they're offering right now, though, is just to have the satellite's HD display show a photograph of you or your family with space in the background and then send you back the wideshot like in the illustrated example image above.

PR has already booked a 2014 launch on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to deploy the Arkyd telescope that has just been funded, but all the while they're developing their technology, making more plans, going further.  This telescope is just a prototype for a more advanced, more numerous, and even cheaper series that would be dedicated to finding and characterizing Near-Earth Asteroids that be profitable to mine in subsequent decades - which they totally intend to do, with the long-term commitment of several visionary billionaires that they've acquired, including people from Google.  But it won't just be looking at asteroids: The whole time that telescope network will be sold/rented/leased out for scientists to look at everything else too., looking at things throughout the solar system and beyond.  A lot will be seen.  

Eventually these PR probes aren't just going to be hanging around Earth looking at stuff from a distance - eventually they'll be sent out to look at promising asteroids for the company's long-term mining agenda, and versions of those probes could probably form the baseline for general interplanetary exploration throughout the inner solar system.  At least, that is, close enough where its solar panels would still provide adequate power.  Still, that's a huge territory: Venus, the Moon, Mars, and Main Belt asteroids would be within reach without too much modification, and and a bit of shielding could put Mercury within reach while batteries could put Jupiter within reach. And once again, there many billions of dollars behind this venture, and it's backed for the long-term.

Meanwhile, closer to home, SpaceX is beginning to test its Falcon 9-R reusable system - the version of the Falcon 9 1st stage that will reignite after stage separation and attempt a soft landing on the ocean, before ultimately being able to land itself with legs on the launch pad.  It's experiencing all sorts of headaches, but is boldly moving forward despite each issue.  There's the most recent video of an aborted hold-down test:

The test is related to, but not exactly aligned with the progress of the Falcon v. 1.1 that's scheduled to be the very next launch, now pushed back to August or September from Vandenberg Air Force Base.  That launch will be a number of firsts for SpaceX: First launch out of Vandenberg, first exclusive launch of a commercial payload, first use of a payload fairing, first launch of the v. 1.1 rocket configuration with extended fuel tanks and octagonal rather than square engine arrangement, and first use of the much more powerful Merlin 1D engine replacing the Merlin 1C.  Here's the Merlin 1D assembly line:

Merlin 1D

The engines above are by far the most advanced ever created, and represent a quantum leap forward in rocketry technology.  Three Falcon 9 v.1.1 1st stage cores bundled side-by-side is the basis of the upcoming Falcon Heavy rocket that will be the third most powerful rocket ever created, after Saturn V and Energiya, and will be the basis for SpaceX's human Mars transport plans.  In the meantime, however, it will compete for business against Atlas V, Ariane V, Delta IV and Delta IV Heavy, and the heavy-lift Russian rockets that currently dominate the rocket market.  This is a BFD, dude.

More detailed descriptions of SpaceX's Falcon 9-R testing regimen can be had here, and it is mesmerizing.  Awesome stuff is afoot!

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