Tag Archives: Chris Lewicki

Seattle’s place in new space

Seattle is seen as a hub or epicenter of the “new space” industry, so much so that the annual NewSpace conference produced by the Space Frontier Foundation came to the city for the first time last week. The conference attracted a who’s who of the industry for networking and discussion.

John Thornquist


One question tackled at the event was why Seattle? John Thornquist, director of the state Office of Aerospace, said the state has the four essential elements that the space industry needs:

  • Businesses and a highly skilled workforce in manufacturing, software, tech, engineering, and big data
  • A culture of entrepreneurship
  • Strong university education and research
  • Support of state leaders

“We’ve been on the forefront designing and building some of the most advanced, successful commercial and military aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, and scientific exploration vehicles the world has ever known,” Thornquist said in welcoming remarks to the conference.

Panel: Why Seattle for new space

OK, but it’s his job to pump the state. A panel of space company leaders gave their reasons for choosing Seattle and Washington.

Fred Wilson


Fred Wilson, director of business development for Aerojet Rocketdyne, said the reason the company chose the Seattle area is simple. Its four founders were Boeing engineers who started the company in 1959.

“Boeing and the aerospace engineering pool that Boeing brought to the Seattle area was a key spawning ground for space companies,” Wilson said, adding that Aerojet Rocketdyne is now doing the same thing. “Having been in the Seattle area for close to 60 years, we’ve spawned off a lot of engineers to companies in the Seattle area.”

Jason Andrews


Jason Andrews, CEO of Spaceflight Industries, backed Thornquist up on his assessment, noting that space companies need great software, big data, and capital.

“Seattle is an epicenter for all three,” Andrews said. Combine that with the city’s other positives, and you have an easy choice.

“Seattle is a great place,” Andrews said. “It is unique here because of the visionary people and the pioneering culture that Seattle has had from the very beginning.”

Rob Meyerson


Rob Meyerson, president of Blue Origin, picked up on that concept as well.

“Space companies come here because so many companies before us have come and made this a really, really fantastic place, when you combine it with the natural resources around us,” Meyerson said. He also said the educational institutions are a good draw, from Raisbeck Aviation High School to the state’s universities.

“It’s a unique place, it’s a beautiful place to live, it’s a very, very intelligent community, a high rate of STEM education, a very literate group,” Meyerson said. “The infrastructure here is really well suited for what we want to do.”

Chris Lewicki


Chris Lewicki worked for NASA and the Jet Propulsion Lab in Southern California before moving north with the founding of Planetary Resources, of which he is president and CEO. He said Seattle was a conscious choice for the company; it’s ambition is mining asteroids, and that will take a while to develop.

“It’s going to take you two, three, four, five, ten—maybe longer—years to build a successful business in the space industry,” Lewicki said. “You’ve got to enjoy where you live, and Seattle is spectacular for that.”

The future of new space

Andrews of Spaceflight Industries said it’s hard to predict how the industry will evolve, as so many companies have different goals and objectives, from asteroid mining to satellite launching.

“The ultimate holy grail is about creating a permanent human presence in space; three of the companies leading that are here,” Andrews said, noting Space X, Blue Origin, and Vulcan Aerospace.

“Seattle is really at the beginning of its space growth curve,” he added. “Companies here are going to have other entrepreneurs that come, work for five years, and spawn off and create new businesses that fill niche markets around this ecosystem that we’re creating in Seattle.”

“The capital, the people, the resources, the attitude—Seattle is going to be on the map for a long time,” Andrews concluded.

Charles Beames


“The companies here are either a part of the revolution itself, or they’re enabling it in some fashion,” said Charles Beames, president of Vulcan Aerospace. “In terms of jobs, the biggest growth is actually going to be all of the new space startups that are highly innovative, that are going to survive, and they’re going to employ all kinds of people and grow new companies.”

“I don’t think you can constrain where the Seattle space economy and industry is going to go,” said Wilson of Aerojet Rocketdyne. “I think it’s going to be innovative and creative and it’s going to pop up in many different areas we don’t even realize right now.”

It turns out, then, that Washington’s aerospace director Thornquist, and everyone else in the state, has good reason to be optimistic.

“New space has come to Washington,” Thornquist said, “and we’re more than ready for it.”

Someone you know will travel in space soon

Leaders of four private, Northwest-based commercial spaceflight companies got together earlier this month at the Museum of Flight to talk about what we will see in their industry in the coming year. While they have some fascinating events on the docket for 2014, the conversation got most interesting when they talked about the not-much-more-distant future.

“I think we will expand out into space faster than people might realize,” predicted Chris Lewicki, president and chief engineer of Planetary Resources, Inc. “It’s less than five years, I think, before everyone in this room will know someone who has been higher than 100 kilometers.”


L-R: Erika Wagner of Blue Origin, Chris Lewicki of Planetary Resources, Roger Myers of Aerojet, and Phil Brzytwa of Spaceflight, Inc. spoke Jan. 18 at the Museum of Flight about the future of space exploration.

Erika Wagner, business development manager of Blue Origin, said the destination is cool, but the passenger list is even better.

“Where we’re going next is more exciting than ever because space and the whole frontier is becoming democratized,” Wagner said. “It’s no longer the realm of billion- or trillion-dollar economy nations, or even of millionaire tourists; it’s getting to the point where everyone in this room can have access to space in their own way.”

Wherever anyone is going Aerojet Rocketdyne is probably helping them get there. Dr. Roger Myers, executive director for advanced in-space programs at the company, noted that “rockets from Redmond” have powered many space missions, including Cassini at Saturn and the New Horizons spacecraft that will arrive at Pluto next year.

“There’s a lot going on in 2014 and beyond,” Myers said. “There’s a great future in this business.”

Myers said that true exploration of space is going to require a variety of rockets, other propulsion systems, and transportation options.

“If we’re going to expand the human economic sphere, if we’re going to become a species that exists beyond low-Earth orbit, we’re going to have to have a transportation infrastructure that mimics what we have on the Earth,” he said.

Aerojet has rocket engines on the recently launched MAVEN spacecraft headed for Mars, and also designed engines for the Orion craft, which is scheduled for an unmanned test flight this year. Blue Origin is busy testing its BE-3 liquid-hydrogen engine. Planetary Resources anticipates the launch of its first ARKYD space telescope this year, thanks in part to a Kickstarter fundraiser last year. While others build rockets, Spaceflight, Inc. is working to get your package delivered to orbit.

Photo (1)“We want to become the kayak.com or the UPS providing delivery of cargo to space,” said Phil Brzytwa, head of sales and business development for the company. “We want our customers to be able to pay by the seat not pay for the entire launch vehicle.” Spaceflight, Inc. works the details and can send up numerous small satellites, cube-sats, and other smaller projects as part of a single payload, making things less complicated for everyone.

Many folks still find personal spaceflight and asteroid mining to be pretty far-fetched concepts, but Lewicki said we should not be so shocked at the rapid advance of technology.

“One hundred fifty years ago there wasn’t an internal combustion engine, and the idea of a steam-powered train was high-tech, and was getting us rapidly across the countryside faster than a horse could,” he noted. It didn’t take so long to get to horseless carriages and lighter-than-air flying machines. Lewicki doesn’t think affordable space travel and mining the solar system for resources are alien concepts.

“If we can conceive of it we can make it happen,” he said. “There’s nothing in the laws of physics that says these things aren’t possible. It’s just a matter of bit-by-bit finding the best use of them, finding the markets and the economies that drive the need for them, and then making them scalable enough so that everyone can benefit from them.”

“We are living during extremely exciting times, the likes of which will be written about in the history books,” Lewicki added, because “this is the time when our species got off the planet.”

PRI ups ante on crowdfunded space telescope project

Planetary Resources, Inc. has upped the ante on its crowdfunded space telescope project. The company says if the campaign raises $2 million it will enhance the project to include exoplanet-hunting capabilities.

ARKYD updateThe Kickstarter campaign was launched less than two weeks ago with a goal to raise $1 million. As of this afternoon more than 9,500 backers had kicked in more than $857,000—including $25 from Seattle Astronomy. It seems a cinch, with 19 days left in the campaign, that they’ll make the original goal. The additional funds under the stretch goal would add exoplanet transit detection capability to the ARKYD telescope by enhancing its stability systems and dedicating scope time to monitor candidate star systems. The upgrade would also allow for better measurement of the spin-properties of asteroids, using the same technique.

“While the ARKYD won’t rival NASA’s $600 million Kepler spacecraft, which may have to end its mission due to a recent equipment failure, the enhanced ARKYD will be a huge step toward important new scientific discoveries enabled by citizen scientists,” said Chris Lewicki, President and Chief Engineer of Planetary Resources, in a company news release.

You can read about the update on the project’s Kickstarter page.

Planetary Resources holds G+ hangout to celebrate first birthday

Calling the 12 months since they went public with their asteroid-mining mission an epic journey, Planetary Resources, Inc. held a a live Google+ hangout from its intergalactic headquarters in Bellevue, Washington today to celebrate its birthday and talk about what’s on the horizon.

President and chief asteroid miner Chris Lewicki spelled out an ambitious plan that includes having the company’s Arkyd 100 telescopes in orbit by 2015 and playing a key role in NASA’s efforts to retrieve an asteroid and bring it into the Earth-Moon system.

Arkyd 100

Planetary Resources plans to have a “constellation” of its Arkyd 100 telescopes in low-Earth orbit and at work spotting asteroids by 2015. They’ll launch smaller cubesats to test the 100’s avionics next year. Photo: Planetary Resources.

“There’s going to be a lot of story to share,” Lewicki said of the next few years.

They actually hope to have hardware in space a year from now. Planetary Resources is working on the “A3”, a small vehicle that is essentially three CubeSats. The A3 will allow them to try out the avionics that will be used with the larger Arkyd 100.

“The best test bed is space itself,” said Chris Voorhees, company VP and spaceship wrangler. Voorhees added that asteroid mining will be a decades-long effort that will require lots of small steps.

“It’s one of those big leaps that mankind has ahead of it,” he said. “For us, on a day-to-day basis, we need to take that into bite-size chunks that we can work and realize, from one step to the next, an incremental process where the successes, sometimes failures, certainly the lessons learned from each step in the process helps educate what we do next.”

Voorhees noted that there is a lot of education needed.

“The biggest challenge that we have with asteroid mining is ignorance; we know precious little about the ore bodies that we have out there,” he said.

“We know enough that it’s tantalizing,” Lewicki added. “The opportunity is out there.”

“We’re an information company before we’re a mining company,” Voorhees concluded.

The Arkyd 100 will be a key part of that information gathering. Getting the telescopes into space will allow Planetary Resources to give the technology a real test, and to begin the work of finding asteroids and figuring out which ones have the best potential for mining.

Interestingly, a primary target of the company’s mining efforts will be water. It’s the essence of life, but perhaps more importantly, it can provide protection from radiation in space and the hydrogen contained can be used as a propellent. It’s expensive to launch into space but may well be cheaper to mine out there.

“Water is going to be the molecule that really unlocks the solar system for humans to expand off the Earth and get into space permanently,” Lewicki said. “Water is the gateway drug of space; it’s the enabler!”

Planetary Resources recently announced a partnership with Bechtel, and Lewicki said it’s exciting to have that company on board.

“When a large mining company calls and wants a mine built, Bechtel helps them get that done,” he said. “We have a partnership with them for the future of space and look forward to working with them.”

Similarly, Planetary Resources is looking forward to working with NASA on the asteroid retrieval project.

“It’s going to be challenging, it’s going to be awesome,” Lewicki said of the project. “If this does get approved in the budget it’s certainly something that we think we can probably contribute to a lot in terms of how NASA does that mission. A lot of our technologies can probably help to buy down NASA’s risk.”

Lewicki said they appreciate working with the space agency because they owe it a lot.

“It’s not without the last 50 years of space exploration that a company like ours would even be able to exist,” he said. “We’re standing on the shoulders of a great investment by not only our country but other countries.”

You can read Seattle Astronomy’s coverage of last year’s rollout of Planetary Resources here. Full video of today’s hangout is below.

Coopertition is key for commercial space exploration

SpaceUp Seattle, an unconference about space exploration, happened over the weekend at the Museum of Flight, and while a big appeal of the format was that the agenda was written on the spot by attendees, it was clear that a big part of the draw for the event was the presence of some major players in commercial space ventures. Erika Wagner of Blue Orgin, Garrett Reisman of SpaceX, and Chris Lewicki of Planetary Resources all made presentations on day one of the conference.

Wagner, business development manager at Kent-based Blue Origin, said the company’s goal is to get more people into space, and that they have to do two main things to accomplish it.

“We have to change the risk profile, we have to make this less risky; and we have to change the cost, make it less expensive,” Wagner said. She added that a key to cost containment will be to develop reusable rockets.


Garrett Reisman of SpaceX spoke about the company’s work at the SpaceUp Seattle conference Saturday at the Museum of Flight. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Reisman, a former astronaut who is now a program manager at SpaceX, agreed.

“Affordable reusability is the key to having a real breakthrough in spaceflight,” he said.

Reisman feels it’s a great time to be an aerospace engineer.

“We’re at the cusp of what I think is going to be a golden age of spaceflight,” he said, comparing the era to the time of rapid advancement in general aviation that occurred around World War II. “Right now, we don’t know what a spaceship is supposed to look like, and that’s awesome!”

The two said their companies aren’t really in competition with each other. In fact, Wagner called it “coopertition” as they work together on regulatory and education issues. “We’re trying to build an industry right now,” she noted. “The market will sort it out.”

Reisman added that competition is good for the companies.

“It’s also really good for NASA. It gives them leverage and it makes us try to outperform each other. The end result is a much better product,” he said.

In addition, they’re pursuing different niches within the industry. Blue Origin is focused on suborbital spaceflight, while SpaceX is pursuing near-Earth orbit, geosynchronous Earth orbit, and beyond. The latter is partly because of the aspirations of SpaceX founder Elon Musk.

“My boss wants to retire on Mars,” Reisman quipped, “so the clock is ticking.”

Blue Origin, meanwhile, sees lots of customers for its suborbital work.

“We’ll be looking up and looking down,” Wagner said. “We believe there’s a real market for space science and Earth science payloads aboard these spacecraft.” She said NASA could never go into space frequently enough or inexpensively enough to make it happen, but if companies can drive the cost down, it will open things up for space tourists as well as university and corporate researchers—even small, local, science-fair projects might be able to scrape up the cash to be launched into space.

“Let’s put space in the hands of the people,” Wagner said.

Reisman agreed the doors to space will fly open once they get the cost of launching stuff down into the range of hundreds of dollars per pound.

“All the promises of science fiction—that suddenly becomes really doable when you get down to that level,” he said.

Speaking of science fiction, Lewicki, president of Planetary Resources, gave a talk that wasn’t about his asteroid mining company. Instead, he gave a presentation from the Keck Institute for Space Studies about a plan for lassoing an asteroid and bringing it close to Earth for further study. The notion drew some interest because NASA recently requested funding for preliminary work on the project.

Lewicki said it isn’t such a far-fetched notion to fly out to a small asteroid, capture it, and then park it in a Lagrange point for safe keeping and easy study. There are a lot of hurdles to overcome, not the least of which is finding a suitable asteroid for the purpose.

There’s a wealth of information about the asteroid return mission on its project page.


Company aims to turn sci-fi of asteroid mining into profitable fact

Planetary Resources, Inc. held a coming-out party at Seattle’s Museum of Flight Tuesday morning, with co-founder and co-chairman Peter Diamandis spelling out the simple, yet audacious, aim of the company.

“The vision of Planetary Resources is to make the resources of space available to man both in space and here on Earth,” he said.

Planetary Resources

The leadership of Planetary Resources, Inc. gathered at the Museum of Flight April 24 for a news conference to talk about the company's plans to mine asteroids. From L-R: Peter Diamandis, Eric Anderson, Chris Lewicki, and Tom Jones. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Diamandis acknowledged the wild, science-fiction nature of the notion of sending robots to asteroids to mine them for the resources we need on Earth and to further explore space. In fact, he gives sci-fi credit for shaping his personal dreams, held since his early teens, of being an asteroid miner.

“Part of it is the spirit of extraordinary writers and artists like Heinlein and Clarke and Bonestell who envisioned what the future would look like,” he said. “Ultimately my passion about opening up space makes the vision of asteroid mining not only a reality, but something that we need to do.”

The company is on a fast track. Eric Anderson, co-founder and co-chairman, said they plan to launch their first spacecraft within 24 months, and seemed a bit taken aback at the enthusiastic applause the announcement generated.

“This company is not about paper studies. This company is not about thinking and dreaming about asteroid mining,” Anderson said. “This company is about creating a space economy beyond the Earth. It’s about building real hardware. It’s about doing real things in space to move the needle forward.”

The concept is attractively simple. Use private investors and innovators to drive down the cost of space exploration. Get the technology up in space to start examining the nine thousand near-Earth asteroids to determine which might be rich in water and precious minerals useful here on the home planet and to those who may further explore space. Send up robots to mine those materials and bring them home.

Sure, it may sound easy.

“It’s very difficult, no question,” Diamandis said, “but the return economically and the benefits for humanity are extraordinary.”

Anderson agreed.

“There will be times when we fail, there will be times when we have to pick up the pieces and try again. But we’re going to do it,” he said. “We’re not going to talk about it, we’re just going to do it.”

Planetary Resources is based in Bellevue, Wash. Chris Lewicki, the company’s president and chief engineer, said they looked at a lot of places before settling on the Seattle area.


A model of the Arkyd 101, the space telescope Planetary Resources plans to launch within the next 24 months to start prospecting for asteroids to mine. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“Some of our investors were here, some of our partners were here, and it’s a beautiful place to live,” Lewicki said in explaining the choice. “All of the infrastructure and the industry that’s in the area is what we need to be able to do this.”

The company has been in existence since 2009 under the name Arkyd Aeronautics. Planetary Resources spacecraft will bear the Arkyd name. Part of the reason they’re going public with a big splash now is that they need to hire more engineers, according to Lewicki. Diamandis added that the game has changed.

“There’s a rising tide going on right now in commercial space,” he said, noting the booming investment in launch technology and in lunar and asteroid missions. Having more capital is a big deal. “That changes the equation and allows us to go much further much faster than ever before in opening up space for the benefit of all.”

The investors, for the most part, remained on the sideline, though one of them, Ross Perot, Jr., praised the effort by telephone and Charles Simonyi was on hand to make a few remarks.

“I don’t think this would be an appropriate investment for NASA,” Simonyi said of the venture. “I think that this is where private enterprise comes in. The genius of the system is that private investors can take the risks.”

“I’m very excited about what you guys are doing, I’m very proud of you and feel privileged to be a part of it,” he added.

They’ve certainly generated some buzz. A large group of reporters turned out for the news conference and hundreds of people chipped in $25 for lunch to hear about it first hand. It’s fair to say most of them are boosters. It will be interesting to watch the dream unfold.


Company’s big goal to expand Earth’s resource base

Planetary Resources logo

A new company to be formally launched tomorrow during a news conference at Seattle’s Museum of Flight will take wing with the ambitious goal to “expand Earth’s resource base.”

A news release from Planetary Resources, Inc. through the museum calls the company:

…a new space venture with a mission to help ensure humanity’s prosperity…[T]he company will overlay two critical sectors—space exploration and natural resources—to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP. This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of ‘natural resources’.

This may sound pretty lofty, but the company may have the coin to pull it off. The release lists an impressive group of investors, including billionaire space tourist and former Microsoft executive Charles Simonyi; Google’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt; film maker James Cameron; K. Ram Shriram, an early Google investor and founder of Sherpalo; and Ross Perot, Jr., chairman of Hillwood Development Corporation and The Perot Group.

As reported here last week, the April 24 news conference and luncheon will include presentations by Eric Anderson, chairman of Space Adventures, Ltd.; Peter H. Diamandis, chairman of the X Prize Foundation; Astronaut Tom Jones; and Chris Lewicki, former NASA Mars rover and lander flight director and mission manager. All are now listed as investors in and/or advisors to Planetary Resources, Inc.

Seattle Astronomy will attend the event Tuesday and file a full report.