Last year, we took an in-depth look at Planetary Resources' asteroid mining plans. Now the Washington-based company has revealed a full-scale prototype of its Arkyd-100 Low Earth Orbit spacecraft that will search for promising mining candidates. Planetary Resources President and "Chief Asteroid Miner" Chris Lewicki has provided a tour of the 11 kilogram (24.2 lb) spacecraft's features and outlined the company's immediate goals.
The Arkyd-100 is the first in a series of different spacecraft that Planetary Resources is developing for asteroid mining. In this case, it's a space telescope and technology demonstrator that will soon be employed for prospecting missions looking for likely mining candidates among near-Earth asteroids while also providing commercial Earth imaging and educational space telescope services.
The propulsion-less Arkyd-100 is small, with a fold-up telescope tube, deployable solar arrays, an integrated avionics bay, and instrument and sensor package at the back of large optical assembly that takes up most of the craft's volume. There's also innovative software that Lewicki assures "is there," though it can't be seen.
The optics operate over a wide range of wavelengths and intensity levels and, though its primary use is for prospecting, it also serves as a means of deep-space communications using lasers. This is important because the spacecraft that Planetary Resources is developing are too small for conventional radio-based deep-space communications systems. Far from an afterthought, Lewicki pointed out that the company is under contract to NASA to develop such a laser-based communications system.
Billed by the company as the "most advanced spacecraft per kilogram that exists today," the Arkyd-100 was designed and built using in-house resources as much as possible. The company is currently developing other spacecraft for its asteroid mining plans and Lewicki says that the team is learning more about how to cut the costs of the assembly, integration and testing as they move toward mass production. The company is also developing computer-controlled machining to create single-piece parts for major structural elements of the Arkyd-100 series. The ultimate goal is to require only a few staff to deliver finished spacecraft in a very short time.
Planetary Resources sees the first launch of several Arkyd-100s in 2014 or 2015.
The video below shows the Arkyd-100 prototype.
Source: Planetary Resources