Ok Planetary Resources, You’ve Won Me Over.

When I first wrote about Planetary Resources early last year I was erring on the side of cautious optimism because back then there wasn’t a whole lot of information available regarding how they were actually going to achieve their goal. Indeed even their first goal of building and launching multiple space telescopes sounded like it was beyond the capabilities of even veteran players in this industry. Still the investors backing them weren’t the type to be taken for a ride so I figured they were worth keeping an eye on to see how they progressed towards their goal.

And boy have they ever:

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The above video shows off one of their prototypes of the Arkyd-100 space based telescope. Now back when Planetary Resources first started talking about what they were going to do I wasn’t expecting something of this size. Indeed I don’t believe anyone has attempted to make a space based telescope that small before as you’re usually trying to amp up your light gathering potential with a large mirror. Still despite the relatively small mirror size they should be quite capable of doing the required imagery that will lead them to potential mineable asteroids.

Their communications set up is also highly intriguing as traditional space communications require large dishes and costly receiving equipment back here on earth. Planetary Resources are instead looking to use lasers for their deep space communications an idea that I didn’t think would be possible. A quick bit of research turns up this document from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab which goes into some detail about their feasibility and shockingly it appears to only be an engineering challenge at this point. How long it will take to turn it into something usable remains to be seen but considering Planetary Resources are looking to launch within the next couple years I’d hazard a guess that they’re already pretty close to getting it working.

Looking at all this you’d think I’d be ashamed of my initial scepticism but I’m not, I love it when people prove me wrong like this. Indeed the work that Planetary Resources are doing closely resembles that of the early days of SpaceX, a company which has gone on to achieve things that no other private company has done before. Given enough time it’s looking like Planetary Resources will be able to do the same and that gets me all kinds of excited.

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  1. To be “capable of doing the required imagery” not only requires good optics and a sensitive camera – but also a very stable spacecraft. And looking for how that nagging attitude control problem will be solved for the Arkyds last night I couldn’t find any detailled information (other than that the specs seem to call for 1 to 3 arc seconds precison). Could you?

  2. @Daniel Fischer I couldn’t find any specifics on their particular system and the only thing I could dredge up was this post which references a “passive attitude control system”: http://rocketdungeon.blogspot.com.au/2012/04/can-planetary-resources-be-highly.html From the quick searching about such systems they do appear to be feasible although they’re apparently not great for imaging. Planetary Resources seems confident that they can make it work as I stumbled across their project tender document with NASA where it states they’ll be delivering that technology.

    @Eoin It’s a really good validation of the technology that’s for sure and considering many of these satellites will be much closer to earth than the moon (at least in the beginning) that means it’s at least technically feasible. Whether or not it works well enough for their entire communications platform remains to be seen but verification of the principles doesn’t get much better than that.

  3. Last I checked (which was over a year ago, to be honest) there were several attitude control systems that would be suitable for a satellite that size in the later developmental stages, that would have the requisite precision for imaging.

    I haven’t looked into passive attitude control systems, however.

    That said, given their timetable (and what I know of small attitude control systems), I don’t think attitude control is going to be the roadblock.

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