Planetary Resources is known to show visitors around its headquarters in Redmond, Wash., but it’s not too often that an outside TV crew gets an inside look at the asteroid-mining venture. The Weather Channel shared such a look over the weekend – including a look through the window at the next microsatellite the company plans to put into orbit.
“So that’s it? That’s your spacecraft, right there?” correspondent Dave Malkoff asks Chris Lewicki, Planetary Resources’ president and chief engineer.
Yes indeed, that’s the Arkyd 6, a prototype satellite about the size of a cereal box that’s designed to beam down infrared images of Earth from orbit. The Arkyd 6 is due to launch next year as a secondary payload on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, through an arrangement with Seattle-based Spaceflight.
Arkyd 6 is the second in a series of spacecraft designed to pave the way for mini-probes that can go beyond Earth orbit to identify and survey near-Earth asteroids. If the timeline proceeds according to plan, Planetary Resources aims to start extracting materials from space rocks by 2025.
Some rocks may have riches in the form of platinum or other metals. However, the company says the biggest payoff could come in the form of water ice, which can be converted into rocket fuel, breathable oxygen and drinking supplies for future spacefarers.
Planetary Resources’ billionaire investors include Virgin’s Richard Branson, Alphabet’s Eric Schmidt and Larry Page, and Microsoft alum Charles Simonyi (who’s taken two trips to the International Space Station).
“Is it possible that a person working in this building, you included, could become a trillionaire from this? With a ‘t’?” Malkoff asks.
“That’s something that we’re very excited about,” Lewicki replied. “Our investors, of course, are very excited about that as well.”
To reach that goal, there’ll have to be a market for water in space. Will there be enough interplanetary traffic to justify setting up extraterrestrial filling stations by the 2030s? Stay tuned. And in the meantime, check out this Planetary Resources video for an even closer look at the Arkyd 6.