Asteroid miner puts first demonstration spaceship in orbit

Asteroid mining company Planetary Resources has launched the first of two technology demonstration spacecrafts, aimed to identify subsystems needed to send out and prospect for valuable resources on asteroids.

The Arkyd 3 Reflight (A3R), launched on Tuesday, will spent its three-month orbiting mission sending back data to a group of scientists based at the firm’s headquarters in Redmond, WA.

Once done, A3R will complete its mission with a fiery re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere as a result of its natural atmospheric orbital-decay, the company said in a statement.

A second spacecraft is expected to be launched later this year, which will be twice the size of the one currently in orbit, Planetary Resources said.

Last year the company lost its first test satellite aboard a commercial rocket that exploded only six seconds after take-off.

The A3 is one of the earliest steps in a long roadmap for Planetary Resources that includes creating cost-effective equipment for space observation and exploration before launching a laser communications system into space to keep in contact with the eventual asteroid prospecting missions that are the ultimate goal.

Asteroid miner puts first demonstration spaceship in orbit

The Arkyd 3 Reflight (A3R) technology demonstration spacecraft is on board the SpaceX Falcon 9. (Image courtesy of Planetary Resources)

The ultimate vision is for a larger Arkyd spacecraft, Arkyd 6 (A6), to help jumpstart a trillion-dollar market mining oxygen, hydrogen and precious metals from asteroids, which are rich in valuable minerals. An M-type asteroid, the third most common type, is just one km diameter, but could contain more than two billion tons of iron ore and nickel, not too mention other riches such as platinum and diamonds..

Planetary Resources said it had already contracted Spaceflight Services, Inc. to launch in a rideshare configuration with Formosat-5, currently scheduled for Dec. 2015.

Founded in 2009 by Eric Anderson and Peter H. Diamandis, M.D., the company is financed by industry-launching visionaries, three of whom include Google's CEO Larry Page & Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and Ross Perot, Jr., Chairman of Hillwood and The Perot Group, who are committed to expanding the world's resource base so that humanity can continue to grow and prosper. Some of the company's advisors include film maker and explorer James Cameron, former Chief of Staff, United States Air Force General T. Michael Moseley (Ret.) and Sara Seager, Ph.D, Professor of Planetary Science and Physics.