A consortium of space and research organizations, Project Blue is aiming to photograph planets around the Alpha Centauri star system, starting with launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund efforts to spot a "pale blue dot" that signify Earth-like planetary conditions conducive to life.
Set to last until Dec. 21, 2016, the Project Blue Kickstarter campaign has a funding goal of at least $1 million. It's a dramatically modest budget compared to what space agencies like NASA have spent for their space telescopes but the project is still nonetheless scheduled for a 2020 launch.
"This isn't a traditional space mission ... We brought together the technical experts who can build and launch this telescope. And now we're asking for your support to get involved, and make Project Blue a reality," it said on the campaign's Kickstarter page.
Project Blue is led by Jon Morse, CEO of the BoldlyGo Institute and former astrophysics director at NASA. Some of the other organizations part of the mission include Mission Centaur, the University of Massachusetts Lowell and the SETI Institute. Project Blue's advisory committee is also made up of scientists from the University of Victoria, Arizona State University, University of Arizona, Penn State University and Yale University.
Why Alpha Centauri?
As a star system, Alpha Centauri has two stars like the Earth's sun, giving it an 85 percent chance of hosting an Earth-like planet. At 4.37 light-years away, it is also the Earth's closest neighbor, which makes it easier to observe than other star systems.
The Project Blue Telescope
The space telescope the Kickstarter will be funding will be about the size of a coffee table. Along with its satellite, it will be about as big as a washing machine. That seems small in relation to the area of the universe it will be observing but Project Blue's space telescope will be capable of seeing planets 20 billion times dimmer compared to their stars, which is equivalent to looking at a firefly fluttering in front of a bright lighthouse from 10 miles away.
Advanced optics technology will allow for direct imaging, dimming star light in Alpha Centauri to make it possible to observe the surrounding planets. Capturing images in visible light should make a planet's surface and atmospheric characteristics visible, making the first indications of capacity to support life more obvious.
Project Blue Kickstarter Goals
The $1 million goal initially set for the Kickstarter campaign will go into funding analysis and design, as well as the simulations that will form the mission's foundation. Once that initial goal is met, stretch goals kick in, going all the way to $4 million to allow Project Blue to test key technologies, complete the telescope's design, start producing telescope components and support involvement in open science.