Planetary Resources' first spacecraft begins testing asteroid prospecting technology

Planetary Resources' first spacecraft begins testing asteroid prospecting technology

Arkyd 6, launching later this year. (Image courtesy of Planetary Resources)

Asteroid mining company Planetary Resources successfully deployed Thursday its first spacecraft from the International Space Station’s (ISS) Kibo airlock, beginning a 90-day mission aimed to test extraterrestrial prospecting technology.

The Arkyd 3 Reflight (A3R), launched to the ISS onboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 last April, will spent its three-month orbiting mission sending back data to a group of scientists based at the firm’s headquarters in Redmond, WA.

The demonstration vehicle, said the company in a statement, expects to validate several core technologies, including avionics, control systems and software, which Planetary Resources plans to incorporate into future spacecraft that will venture into the Solar System and prospect for resource-rich near-Earth asteroids.

“Our philosophy is to test often, and if possible, to test in space (…) We are innovating on every level from design to launch,” Planetary Resources president and chief engineer, Chris Lewicki, said.

Planetary Resources' first spacecraft begins testing asteroid prospecting technology

Arkyd 3R deploying from the Kibo Module on the International Space Station. (Courtesy of NASA)

He noted that the A3R is the most sophisticated, yet cost-effective, test demonstration spacecraft ever built. Its deployment, added co-founder and co-chairman Peter H. Diamandis, represents a “significant milestone” for the company.

Many consider asteroid mining a first and key step to the eventual colonization of outer space, something like California's Gold Rush, but out of this planet.

Nearly 9,000 asteroids larger than 36 meters (150 feet) in diameter orbit near Earth. Geologists believe they are packed with iron ore, nickel and precious metals at much higher concentrations than those found on Earth, making up a market valued in the trillions of dollars.

Asteroids are also a prime source for water in space, essential for interplanetary outpost.