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January 23, 2013

Planetary Resources Shows off Asteroid Hunting Satellite

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

Asteroid mining startup Planetary Resources Inc. (PRI) showed off some of its facilities and a mechanical prototype of its Arkyd-100 space telescope in a blog post and video last week.   The piece delivers just enough to tantalize space geeks that progress is being made to build its low cost satellites for prospect missions.

Planetary Resources president and Chief Engineer Chris Lewicki is the "host" of the video blog presentation as he presents "one" of the mechanical prototypes for the Arkyd-100, a space telescope satellite and technology demonstrator. The prototype weighs in at 11 kilograms and includes deployable solar arrays, an integrated avionics bay, and an instrument and sensor package at the back of a "comparative large" optical assembly (i.e., a telescope). 

In the video, Lewicki says PRI has decided to design and build as much as possible in house, just like "Elon Musk and SpaceX (News - Alert)" have vertically integrated to keep costs down, control reliability and drive innovation. In the video, he lifts the "daringly small" prototype with a single arm, puts it down on its "bottom," flips out a pair of solar panels, and then pulls out the barrel of the telescope to lock into place.

Lewicki also shows off the company's Class 10,000 clean room, a laser communications testbed, and the manufacturing facility.  Laser communication using the telescope is vitally important because the smaller spacecraft doesn't have the power or weight budget for high-speed data transmissions using traditional radio.

In-house manufacturing enables PRI to learn how to strip the cost out of the assembly, integration and test processes with each configuration prototype build. Optimizing the build through prototypes is "incredibly valuable" when the company starts mass production of Arkdy-100 and its successors for spaceflight. The goal is to have a process that allows "just a few" staff to deliver a spacecraft in a "very short" amount of time, thereby lowering cost.

At the end of the video, Lewicki teased that there are a "number of exciting upcoming events," with one of the subjects of an upcoming blog post, urging readers to "stay tuned."

PRI's video shows facilities, hardware, and Lewicki. Absent from the video are other employees. It isn't clear if this was a conscious choice to feature Lewicki as the face of the company and/or prevent competitors from poaching employees. Recently announced Deep Space Industries would appear to be a direct competitor, while any number of small-sat startups (and some of the larger established satellite manufacturers) would welcome any insights they can get on a faster-cheaper-better approach to building better hardware.

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO Miami 2013, Jan 29- Feb. 1 in Miami, Florida.  Stay in touch with everything happening at ITEXPO (News - Alert). Follow us on Twitter.

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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