Tag Archives: Planetary Resources Inc.

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 sets announcement, making space accessible

Planetary Resources is planning to announce, with some hoopla, a project to “make make access to space widely available for exploration and research.” The Bellevue-based asteroid mining company is bringing in Brent Spiner—Data from Star Trek—to help with a day of announcement activities about the initiative next Wednesday at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.

Planetary Resources, Inc.Planetary Resources, according to a news release sent by the museum, is “developing the most advanced space technology ever and will make it publicly accessible.”

A diverse group of supporters, including Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson, actor Seth Green, Spiner, Star Trek’s Rob Picardo (The Doctor), Bill Nye the Science Guy, futurist Jason Silva, and MIT astrophysicist Dr. Sara Seager are listed as backers of the project.

Activities for May 29 include a media event at 10 a.m. featuring Planetary Resources officials Peter Diamandis, Eric Anderson and Chris Lewicki, and vlogger Hank Green. At 3:30 p.m. Green and Spiner will lead a public event in the Great Gallery of the museum. Both events will be streamed live as well. (We’ll publish links when they are available.)

UPDATE: Stream the events here; there’s more info on the Planetary Resources blog.

The release hints that the project will create opportunities for citizen science, including direct participation in the company’s asteroid-mining mission.

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.

SpaceUp Seattle symposium at Museum of Flight next weekend

Space exploration enthusiasts in the Northwest will have a chance to share their ideas with professionals in the commercial spaceflight industry at a two-day symposium next weekend. SpaceUp Seattle is scheduled for April 13-14 at the Museum of Flight.

Organizer Forest Gibson said attendees of SpaceUp Seattle will actually get to participate much more directly than they get to during Q&A sessions at the typical conference. In fact, SpaceUp is an un-conference; there will be no set agenda and anyone who shows up can choose a topic, give a talk, or make a presentation.

SpaceUp Seattle“It’s about the people who are at the un-conference deciding what they want to talk about,” Gibson explained. “This means there’s never any misalignment in terms of what people really want to hear, because it’s being decided in that moment.” So any topic is possible, from asteroid mining to model rockets.

Industry players such as Boeing, Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Planetary Resources are expected to be there, but they won’t necessarily drive the conversation. In fact, Gibson said that for the professionals SpaceUp provides a chance to listen.

“Whether it’s just amateur enthusiasts or industry professionals, they get a feel where people’s interests really lie and what their concerns are,” Gibson said. “Having their ears to the ground about what non-professionals are concerned about is something they should be paying attention to.”

Gibson said there will be plenty at the un-conference for the casual observer, astronomy blogger, or aspiring space explorer. “It’s a chance to go and spend some time with a lot of other people who are interested in the same things,” he noted. “Especially with something that’s so new, you don’t know what opportunities could exist for you for being more involved in what’s happening professionally.”

In Gibson’s view it is important that SpaceUp Seattle go for two days. Participants will get comfortable with the process on day one, and really dive in the second day. So don’t worry—while you can give your own presentation if you’d like, there won’t be a pop quiz about Newton’s Third Law.

“It facilitates and encourages participation, but doesn’t require it,” Gibson said of the SpaceUp format.

There have been more than a dozen SpaceUps around the world over the last year and a half or so, and Gibson notes that while there is a core group of organizers, the effort isn’t really centralized. He expects that if next weekend’s event goes well, Seattle will have another within a year or so. After all, many commercial space companies are based in the Northwest, and with participants setting the agenda on the spot, the conversation won’t get stale.

SpaceUp Seattle runs at the Museum of Flight from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Saturday, April 13, and from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 15. The museum also is hosting a Yuri’s Night celebration on Friday, April 12, so it will be a full weekend of space observances.

Admission to SpaceUp Seattle is $35 for Museum of Flight members, $40 for non-members. Get tickets here.

More information is available on the SpaceUp website. SpaceUp is also on Facebook and Twitter.

Dispatch from Chicago: ALCon, day one

Happy Independence Day, and greetings from Chicago, where we’re celebrating the 150th anniversary of amateur astronomy in the United States and the first day of the annual convention of the Astronomical League.

It’s pretty likely that people who do not have Ph.D. degrees in astronomy have been participating in the hobby for more than 150 years. But the Chicago Astronomical Society, a co-host of this event, was founded in 1862 and is still going strong as the oldest such organization in the Western Hemisphere.

Michael E. Bakich, a senior editor of Astronomy magazine, opened the day’s talks with a retrospective of the last century and a half in amateur astronomy. Bakich touched on a number of milestones of that time, notably the birth of John Dobson in 1915, and his creation, in 1967, of the Newtonian reflector mount that bears his name.

“Amateur astronomy really hasn’t been the same since,” Bakich said of the invention of the Dobsonian mount, a telescope that’s easy to use and easy for an amateur to build.

Three key developments occurred in 1980: The release of the Coulter Odyssey I telescope, a 13.1-inch Dobsonian scope that sold for just $400 (a 17.5-inch went for $600), and that Bakich said was the first commercially available Dob; the debut of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos television series on PBS; and the first sales of the TeleVue 13mm Nagler, which Bakich called “the eyepiece that changed observing.” It offers both sharp images and a large apparent field of view.

Bakich noted that four transits of Venus happened during this time, though the one last month will be the last until 2117.

“The last 150 years have been a blast,” he said. “Here’s to the next 150!”

Mike Simmons, president of Astronomers Without Borders, also spoke in the morning session. The motto of the organization is “One People, One Sky” and Simmons explained the efforts to get past geopolitical differences and find common ground through astronomy.

“We’re all looking at the same thing everywhere,” Simmons said, making frequent references to trips to what he feels is a most misunderstood country: Iran.

“Iran is the most pro-American country I’ve ever been to, and I travel a lot,” Simmons said. “Whatever ideas you get from the news… you can’t trust the sound bites.”

He added that the people of Iran are typically delighted to be in contact with Americans.

“They love everything about America except what goes on between our governments,” he said.

Jan van Muijlwijk and Daniela De Paulis talked about their artistic endeavor, Moonbounce. It’s an interesting concept in which images are converted to sound, which is broadcast and bounced off the Moon. The return signal is caught on the rebound and then converted back into an image using the same software. The distortion of the image, resulting from the imperfect return of the data, is sort of the Moon’s take on the original.

Dr. Hasan Padamsee, a playwright and physicist from Cornell, closed out the morning’s lecture sessions with a talk about Edwin Hubble and various others involved in the physics of 100 years ago. We’re fortunate to be headed out Thursday to see Padamsee’s play about Hubble and Einstein, “Creation’s Birthday,” out at Fermilab. I expect we’ll also get some first-hand dope on the Higgs boson.

Adler planetarium

Astronomical League conventioneers mull about outside the Adler Planetarium in Chicago during a field trip July 4. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Our afternoon consisted of a fabulous roadtrip to the Chicago lakeshore to visit a pair of great institutions: The Field Museum and the Adler Planetarium.

At Field we had special presentations from Adler’s Mark Hammergren about asteroids and meteorites and from Field’s Philipp Heck about cosmic dust. Seattle Astronomy asked Hammergren about Seattle-area company Planetary Resources and its plan to mine asteroids for natural resources. Hammergren gave a mixed opinion. He called the notion of getting precious metals from asteroids a “red herring.”

“They’re not present in meteorites in high enough concentrations that would make it economically viable.” he said. “In the present day you’d be far better off looking at recycling materials. Concentrations of precious metals are much higher in today’s dumps.”

Hammergren did allow that space miners could find water and turn it into rocket fuel and other resources needed for future space exploration, but even with that was somewhat dubious.

“We don’t have enough infrastructure in space to justify that kind of investment,” he said. “The only thing that makes any kind of sense, economically speaking, is that if we move, in the next few decades, toward the mass colonization of space. Maybe that’s what they’re going for. You’ve got some eccentric billionaires who are trying to live the childhood dream. This is one way to jump start the colonization of our solar system.”

Also at Adler we were treated to the work of Jeff Talman, who has converted acoustic resonances of stars into musical compositions that are fascinating. It was great to see the spectacular imagery in Adler’s Grainger Sky Theater; the auditorium was closed for renovations when I last visited the Adler in 2010.

Friday’s agenda includes a trip to Fermilab for a tour and the “Creation’s Birthday” play, and then a tall ship sail on Lake Michigan for a cruise and a look at navigation by starlight.

Until then, I sign off from the Windy City.

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.