Space

Planetary Resources shows off full-scale asteroid mining prototype

Planetary Resources shows off ...
Chris Lewicki and the Arkyd-100 prototype
Chris Lewicki and the Arkyd-100 prototype
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Artist's concept of asteroid mining
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Artist's concept of asteroid mining
Artist's concept of the Arkyd-100
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Artist's concept of the Arkyd-100
Artist's concept of the Arkyd-200 Interceptor
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Artist's concept of the Arkyd-200 Interceptor
Artist's concept of teh Arkyd-300 Prospector in action
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Artist's concept of teh Arkyd-300 Prospector in action
Chris Lewicki and the Arkyd-100 prototype
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Chris Lewicki and the Arkyd-100 prototype
Chris Lewicki and the Arkyd-100 prototype
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Chris Lewicki and the Arkyd-100 prototype
Chris Lewicki and the Arkyd-100 prototype
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Chris Lewicki and the Arkyd-100 prototype
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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.

Artist's concept of the Arkyd-100
Artist's concept of the Arkyd-100

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

View gallery - 7 images
12 comments
Toffe Carling
Very cool and all, but still illegal by international law to actually use.
JBar
Who finances these ludicrous business plans? Assuming you found an asteroid made of solid gold, your cost per kilogram of mining it would exceed three times the current market's gold prices.
Kris Lee
@Toffe Kaal
When they have technology in place, the greed will change the law.
The same principle applies for the surveillance technology and privacy.
Joel Detrow
To my knowledge, Toffe, there is no international law against mining asteroids. No one has ownership over them. We haven't even divided up the moon between anyone yet.
I'm of the opinion that space needs to be divided up not between nations, but between individuals and corporations who are going to use the given resources in an area, whether for habitation or resources.
Jonesy
This is another stupid idea. We have higher and higher energy costs globally, so now we're going to blast off into space to retrieve rocks. Resource efficiency is the answer, not getting more waste stored on Earth
Mark Keller
I'm surprised at the lack of vision from some posters.
Pat Kelley
In order to make off-planet industry possible, the resources will have to be found "out there". This is kind of a chicken/egg problem, as lifting the materials from Earth to construct space habitats is too expensive. What Planetary Resources is doing is going to make space-based society possible.
Mining asteroids is one thing, but the same technologies will also make it possible to turn smaller asteroids into habitats. While there will be a movement toward planetary colonization, space habitats off-planet will also develop.
Jon A.
Mark K: I can't say that I'm surprised at all.
What some people don't get is that the value of raw materials in orbit is equal to the value of the materials on earth, plus the cost to lift them into orbit. When you consider that Planetary Resources is focusing on platinum and related metals, that value will be very high indeed.
The value of a metric ton of platinum is roughly 54 million dollars on earth, plus another 5-10 million dollars for launch costs.
There's also the boost to science that their efforts will produce. We're going to find out a LOT more about near earth asteroids, and we'll also have swarms of space telescopes out there that can do astronomical observations in their spare time.
Slowburn
re; JBar
There are metals more valuable than gold and have high temperature structure caricaturists that makes for easy reentry and landing of the material. Titanium spheres almost always make it to the ground intact.
Toffe Carling
Well according to my ex who have a Phd in International law. It states that no planets or asteroids may be claimed by government's as land and asteroids may only be used for scientific use. Not mining. But I am sure this will change but as it stands now it is illegal, even for USA. But it is also pointed out that no one cares for this law and no one will enforce it. But USA seams to be sooo big on enforcing the illegal downloading in other countries that it be eager to uphold other laws...(LOL)
But I think asteroid mining is a good idea if the frame work for prospecting gets a clear set of easy good rules. Like that you have to land an object onto the asteroid to claim it..then send in a claim to a central claim agency.. then if the asteroid isnt started being full-scale mine with in 5 years the claim is forfeit..or some thing like that.
Also to add value to the metal that you mine is that you have manufacture of certain specialised materials that can only be done in micro g (0 G).