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Planetary Resources: the new asteroid mining project backed by James Cameron and Google executives

Planetary Resources, a company founded by several space entrepreneurs and backed by such high-profile names as James Cameron, Larry Page, and Eric Schmidt, plans to begin prospecting for natural resources like water or precious metals in near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) by 2022. Co-founder Peter Diamandis claims that "everything we hold of value on Earth — metals, minerals, energy, real estate, water — is in near-infinite quantities in space."

  • Adi Robertson

    May 27, 2016

    Adi Robertson

    Asteroid mining company Planetary Resources kills 'space selfie' project

    Arkyd Space Selfie
    Planetary Resources

    Space exploration company Planetary Resources is scuttling a Kickstarter-backed project that would let backers take "selfies" via space telescope, after getting funding for a separate project. Earlier this week, the company posted an update on the plan to launch one of its Arkyd telescopes into orbit as a publicly accessible resource, saying that public interest had failed to translate into outside investment. It has offered a full refund to the over 17,600 people who pledged a total of $1.5 million during the campaign.

    "When we closed the campaign in June of 2013, we were confident that the tremendous enthusiasm from around the world would translate into continued financial support outside of the Kickstarter community to move our idea forward," wrote Planetary Resources president and CEO Chris Lewicki. "But, what we discovered was unfortunate. Aside from all the progress we made in the underlying technology, the follow-on interest from the business and educational sectors to expand the Arkyd campaign into a fully-supported mission did not exist as we had anticipated." The project would have allowed backers to point the telescope in a direction of their choosing (except the Sun) and photograph a projected image of themselves against the vacuum of space — hence, a space selfie.

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  • Adi Robertson

    Nov 22, 2013

    Adi Robertson

    NASA teams up with Planetary Resources to launch asteroid-finding contest next year

    Asteroid mining startup Planetary Resources has partnered with NASA as part of the agency's mission to track rogue asteroids and find a candidate to pull into orbit around the moon. The company has been chosen as the first partner for NASA's Asteroid Grand Challenge, building on existing crowdsourcing efforts in order to find a better asteroid tracking algorithm. Starting early in 2014, NASA will begin running a contest based on information from the "Asteroid Zoo," a joint project by Planetary Resources, Zooniverse, and Chicago's Adler Planetarium. Asteroid Zoo, currently working towards a beta launch, is described as a game-like platform that asks the public to hunt for near-earth asteroids that existing software has missed. Using that data set, NASA will ask competitors to build new algorithms that can replicate those results, making its asteroid-finding systems better at the pattern recognition humans excel at.

    NASA will develop the competitions and look at ways to use the resulting algorithms, while Planetary Resources will help put raw data from NASA-funded telescopes online and review the submissions. The exact win conditions haven't yet been nailed down: the company says it will be working on a ranking system that can balance factors like overall accuracy, success at finding all the asteroids in a data set, and minimizing computing time. While contestants create algorithms, Asteroid Zoo users will hopefully keep finding more rocks that will spur future competitions over the next few years.

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  • Russell Brandom

    Jul 5, 2013

    Russell Brandom

    Landing on asteroids could cause a zero-gravity avalanche

    Asteroid credit NASA JPL
    Asteroid credit NASA JPL

    Asteroids may not be as stable as scientists thought. A recent experiment shows that the force from a landing spacecraft might easily cause an avalanche or something resembling an extraterrestrial mudslide, as a result of shifts in the dust on the asteroid's granular surface.

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  • Adi Robertson

    May 29, 2013

    Adi Robertson

    Aspirational asteroid miners promise 'space selfies' in $1 million Kickstarter campaign

    Arkyd Space Selfie
    Arkyd Space Selfie

    Two months after unveiling an ambitious asteroid mining plan, billionaire-backed startup Planetary Resources decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign. "We've had so many people writing us and saying 'Hey, can we be involved in finding those asteroids?'" said co-founder Peter Diamandis in a 2012 promotional video. The Arkyd space telescope series was intended to probe for near-earth asteroids, but almost from the beginning, Planetary Resources envisioned its first models being used in some way by the public, both to democratize space exploration and to provide publicity for the nascent project. Now, almost a full year later, that Kickstarter is finally launching — and Planetary Resources' mission is lurching forward.

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  • Amar Toor

    Jan 22, 2013

    Amar Toor

    Asteroid mining company unveils lightweight telescope for deep space missions

    planetary resources arkyd screengrab
    planetary resources arkyd screengrab

    Planetary Resources this week unveiled a full-scale prototype of its Arkyd-100 — a space telescope and technology demonstrator that will be used on the company's first deep space missions. Backed by high-profile investors like James Cameron, Larry Page, and Eric Schmidt, the asteroid mining company last year announced plans to launch its first Arkyd spacecraft by 2014, in the hopes of harvesting precious metals and water from near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) within the decade.

    Planetary Resources president and chief asteroid miner Chris Lewicki showed off the Arkyd-100 prototype in a video published Sunday, describing the 11 kilogram device as "daringly small." Lewicki did not divulge many details on the Arkyd-100's inner workings, citing concerns over the company's intellectual property, though he did stress that Planetary Resources is intent on making it "the most advanced spacecraft per kilogram that exists today."

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  • Adi Robertson

    Apr 24, 2012

    Adi Robertson

    Asteroid mining company Planetary Resources to launch first 'Arkyd' spaceship within 24 months

    After releasing some details this morning, Planetary Resources is outlining its plan to open up deep space exploration by mining near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) for water and precious metals. As previously announced, the company will be building a series of craft first to prospect for potential resource-bearing asteroids, then to chart a course and bring them back to orbital depots or even to Earth. Planetary Resources co-founder Eric Anderson acknowledges that the company is in a very early stage, but he claims that the company will be launching its first spacecraft, dubbed the "Arkyd," within 24 months and hopes to identify the first asteroids for mining within the decade.

    The ship that will launch is likely going to be the Arkyd 101, which operates in low-Earth orbit as a space telescope. The Arkyd 102, another telescope, has also been developed. The 100 series is designed as a personal telescope and a proof of concept for the company. After that, the 200 series will push forward into space, doing the first actual asteroid prospecting. The 300 series, which appears to be the ultimate goal, will then "swarm" into space to check the material composition, location, spin rate, and other information about the asteroids. A team of about two dozen engineers is currently working for the company.

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  • Adi Robertson

    Apr 24, 2012

    Adi Robertson

    Asteroid mining company Planetary Resources details plans for space resource hunt

    Planetary Resources, the high-profile new company backed by Eric Schmidt, Larry Page, and James Cameron among others, announced earlier today that it would be prospecting for near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) containing precious metals in the Platinum group or other natural resources. Now, it's revealed more about how it plans to reach these NEAs and bring their contents back to Earth.

    Essentially, the company hopes to jump between asteroids, extending the reach of its ships by targeting NEAs rich with water. "In addition to supporting life, water will also be separated into oxygen and hydrogen for breathable air and rocket propellant," co-founder Eric Anderson explained in a press release. Planetary Resources claims that 1,500 of the known 9,000 NEAs can be reached with the same amount of energy it takes to get to the Moon; it will find prospective candidates for mining with deep-space prospecting craft like the Arkyd-100 series, which it has apparently already developed. The project will be officially announced later today, so hopefully we'll have more details soon.

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  • Jamie Keene

    Apr 24, 2012

    Jamie Keene

    Larry Page, Eric Schmidt, and James Cameron will begin space mining operations by 2022, details later today

    Asteroids
    Asteroids

    As promised, Bellevue, Washington-based Planetary Resources is letting everyone else in its plans. The project, backed by Google's Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, film director James Cameron, and Ross Perot Jr., will initially focus on the creation of low-cost robotic spacecraft designed for use in surveying missions. Ultimately, the company hopes that the technology it creates will be used for the extraction of precious metals from space — invaluable as the supply available on Earth dwindles.

    The firm plans to have its first craft in orbit around Earth within the next two years, and by 2022 hopes to progress from observation platforms to selling prospecting services. It believes that it will be able to mine some of the thousands of asteroids that pass near to earth each year, and expects to discover expensive metals like Platinum in abundance. Much like Elon Musk's SpaceX and Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, Planetary Resources sees scientific bodies like NASA as its likely first customers. It also has the potential to look for more than metals — as founder Peter Diamandis told Reuters, "everything we hold of value on — metals, minerals, energy, real estate, water — is in near-infinite quantities in space."

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  • Adi Robertson

    Apr 18, 2012

    Adi Robertson

    Mystery company backed by James Cameron and Google executives may be an asteroid mining project

    MIT's Technology Review has just gotten news of a mysterious new project that claims it will "create a new industry and a new definition of 'natural resources.'" Space exploration company Planetary Resources will be unveiled in a conference call on Tuesday, April 24th. Besides the audacious announcement, which promises to "overlay two critical sectors — space exploration and natural resources — to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP," what makes this unique is its high-profile support group. The venture is backed by Google executives Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, director James Cameron, and politician Ross Perot's son, among others.

    We're left to ponder, however, what Planetary Resources will actually do. Technology Review speculates that the project is an asteroid mining operation, reasoning that the other natural resources we need — an Earth-like habitat and supply of fossil fuels — aren't going to be found in space any time soon. Looking at the evidence, asteroid mining seems pretty likely at this point, especially since X Prize founder and perpetual optimist Peter Diamandis is at the head of the operation. In 2005, Diamandis appeared at TED describing an extraterrestrial environment where "everything we hold of value on this planet — metal and minerals and real estate and energy" are available in "infinite quantities." He specifically singled out asteroid mining, claiming that he could finance mining a "20 trillion dollar" asteroid full of nickel-iron alloy by speculating in the precious metals market.

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