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Asteroid mining company unveils lightweight telescope for deep space missions

Asteroid mining company unveils lightweight telescope for deep space missions


Backed by James Cameron, Larry Page, and Eric Schmidt, Planetary Resources gives a glimpse of what's to come

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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."

"The most advanced spacecraft per kilogram."

Designed for use on future prospecting missions, the Arkyd-100 includes deployable solar arrays, an integrated avionics bay, and a sensor package located at the back of its optical assembly. Its small size and weight make the Arkyd-100 incompatible with traditional space communications technology, which is why Planetary Resources is developing advanced spacecraft optics in its Class 10,000 clean room.

According to Lewicki, the Arkyd-100's optical assembly can capture images across a wide range of wavelengths, while enabling laser communications, as well — something that the company is developing for NASA. "We’re raising the bar on spacecraft design above anything that’s been done before," he said.

Inspired by Elon Musk's SpaceX venture, Planetary Resources is putting a major focus on developing all of its technology in-house, which it says will make it easier to mass produce spacecraft at a low cost. The company didn't offer any updates on its timetable for launch, though Lewicki said more news would be coming soon.