UPDATE: The news conference is over, but you can read our live notes below. Stay tuned for more later today on GeekWire.
Coming up at Seattle’s Museum of Flight this morning is the highly anticipated news conference by Planetary Resources, the space robot venture that plans to formally unveil and explain its plans to mine near-earth asteroids.
The company is backed by big names such as Google’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, filmmaker James Cameron, plus veterans of NASA and the commercial spaceflight industry.
I’m at the news conference right now, where executives including Peter Diamandis (X Prize Foundation) and Eric Anderson (Space Adventures) are getting ready. We’ll have details from the scene as they unfold, and you can tune in above to the live stream from Planetary Resources.
The news conference is scheduled to start at 10:30 a.m.
Also check out the news release and videos that came out in advance of the event. Live notes below:
Museum of Flight CEO Doug King starts off, comparing the beginnings of commercial space exploration to the early days of the personal computer industry. A video plays outlining the plans.
Anderson says in the video that the idea is to first identify near-Earth asteroids, then develop technologies to transform them into valuable resources and retrieve them.
“We are going to change the way the world thinks about natural resources,” the video concludes.
First speaker from the company is Diamandis, the company’s co-founder. Talks about the origins of the X Prize Foundation, how they were skeptics, but the X Prize helped pave the way to the space tourism industry.
“Today I am very proud to be announcing Planetary Resources. The vision is to make the resources of space available to humanity both in space and here on Earth.”
Scarcity is contextual. Technology provides access to the abundant resources of space. Solar system is full of resources that can be brought back to Earth.
Forces enabling this new venture. Exponential growth in technology lets small teams and individuals do what only governments could do in the past. Low-cost, low-powered spacecraft.
Availability of commercial space launch has finally arrived. Jeff Bezos, Paul Allen projects are examples.
New generation of risk-tolerant investors. This is smart money investing in one of the largest commercial ventures ever.
Aligned with NASA’s goal of working with private companies.
Can it really be done? It can be done and yes, it’s very difficult. Extraordinarily difficult. But returns and benefits to humanity are extraordinary.
Anderson takes the stage to talk about economics. This is seminal event in the future of entrepreneurial space, will be many who follow, he says. This will now create a new industry that’s even bigger than current resources and energy. Idea is to bring the solar system within our economic sphere of influence.
Will focus on near-Earth asteroids. Two types of resources.
1) Water. Hydrogen and oxygen are most efficient forms of rocket propellant. It is the best rocket fuel out there. Provides not only with the ability to support life — drinking water, food — but also propellant.
2) Precious metals. Platinum group metals. People have been been mining asteroids on Earth based on asteroids that have hit surface for a long time.
The line of spacecraft is called the Arkyd line. This will be used first for prospecting, and then for extracting. Phase 1 is to start with initial line of spacecraft, telescopes, which will be launching within 24 months. This company is not about paper studies, he says. This company is about creating a space economy. “There’s plenty of talking, we’re about doing.”
Telescope spacecraft will be followed by swarms of robotic spacecraft to get closer to asteroids.
We’re still at the very beginning of what we’re doing here, he says. If it’s successful, we hope to make a lot of money, but it’s not going to happen overnight.
Anderson says, “I’ve been blown away by the fever pitch of the media the last few days. It’s been amazing to watch the blogs, the commentary.” All except for 5 to 10 percent of reaction is super-positive. People are excited about even the idea of asteroid-mining.
“If we’re able to successfully deploy and mine for water, we’re going to be able to create a network of propellant depots, of gas stations, that will be a roadway to the rest of the universe.”
Next up is Chris Lewicki, the company’s chief engineer, and a veteran of the NASA Mars Rover missions.
He says, “Good morning, everyone. I’m Chris Lewicki, and I’m an asteroid miner.”
Idea is to create a simple design that can be executed by a small team.
Arkyd 100 prospecting telescope operates in low-Earth orbit. Has one of them on stage next to him. Arkyd 200 will follow to leave Earth orbit. Then Arkyd 300 will follow to swarm asteroid.
“When failure is not an option, success is really expensive. … We will live with and learn from our failures.”
We’re building a new kind of company, a new type of spacecraft team. Engineers who are implementing Arkyd have the highest level of experience in landing a spacecraft on another planet. Many of our team came from that effort, he says. Applying that knowledge from NASA to new applications in the private sector.
Filmmaker James Cameron is listed as an adviser. (Google’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt are investors.) Other advisers include David Vaskevitch, a former Microsoft CTO.
Next up is Tom Jones, a former astronaut who is also an adviser to the company. Important to find out what the near-Earth asteroids contain. Shows pictures of the surface of one of the prospects, with loose rubble making mining easier.
Says Planetary Resources can be faster than government and accept failure more readily, learn from it and move ahead.
To have permanent presence in space beyond Space Station this century, have to reduce the cost. Mining natural resources in a cost-effective way to support life.
Ross Perot Jr., one of the investors in the asteroid-mining company, now patches in to the news conference via audio. Says he believes in the team and believes more private capital move into these types of areas. Calls it a great American story. Shows that courage and talent can take you a long way.
Now up is Charles Simonyi, the former Microsoft engineer and space tourist, who talks about the risk of the investment, says it’s where private investment can take a risk and try different business models, unlike NASA and others. Echoes the notion that it’s similar to the early days of the PC industry.
First question is about scope of business. Company is in Bellevue, has a couple dozen engineers.
Next question is about plan over next two years. Arkyd-100. Doesn’t work alone, works in teams. Space telescope. Swiss Army knife. Idea is to make many of them, not have this one precious spacecraft that they have to worry about.
Anderson say the idea of adding trillions to the economy through asteroid mining is over decades. We clearly will go after the highest-value materials first.
Why Bellevue? Lewicki says they looked at Silicon Valley, other areas, but decided on Seattle because some of investors and partners are here, beautiful place, and industry infrastructure is here.
“We’re starting the Silicon Valley of space up here in Seattle,” Lewicki says.
Diamandis says the company doesn’t plan to send humans into space. “Sorry Tom,” he says to former astronaut Jones.
Company is cash-flow positive, Diamandis says. They have development contracts with companies and government organizations aligned with mission, including NASA contract for optical communications.
Why announce now? Fundraising is done. (They’re not disclosing numbers.) They’re hiring. Want to get the community excited. Diamandis: Capital has always been the scarcest part of opening the space frontier.
Hiring? “We’re looking for people who are willing to dedicate their lives to this task,” says Lewicki.
Answering next question, yes, Arkyd 100 can be used for Earth observations One of the most powerful, super low-cost personal space telescopes.
Last question: Did science fiction play a role in planning for event? Anderson quotes Lewicki saying science fiction is science fiction right up to the point that it’s science fact.
That’s a wrap. More to come.