Richard Branson and the asteroid miners are teaming up. Planetary Resources, the Bellevue-based company that plans to extract natural resources from asteroids, has signed on to use Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne rocket to put its Arkyd-100 asteroid-hunting space telescopes into low Earth orbit.
Virgin Galactic announced LauncherOne earlier today at the Farnborough Air Show, expanding its business beyond suborbital flights for space tourists. The company says it’s “leveraging that background to build and operate a new vehicle designed to give satellite operators a radically better option for carrying their small satellites into orbit.”
The company says it will use the mothership WhiteKnightTwo, created for SpaceShipTwo tourism flights, to launch the LauncherOne rocket from the air, carrying private satellites.
Eric Anderson, co-founder of Planetary Resources, says in a news release, “LauncherOne has the potential to provide reliable and continuous launch service capability for small payloads. I expect Planetary Resources will launch several constellations of Arkyd-100 Series spacecraft in the coming years aboard LauncherOne.
The Arkyd-100 telescope line is the first in a series of planned Arkyd space vehicles. Future versions will travel to near-Earth asteroids to extract natural resources. Planetary Resources is run by commercial space and NASA veterans and backed by deep-pocketed investors including Google’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, and Ross Perot Jr.
[Previously: Meet Arkyd, the asteroid-hunting robot spaceship]
Here’s a video with Branson talking about LauncherOne.