Meanwhile, In Space: Asteroid Mining Startup Planetary Resources Inks Deal With Virgin Galactic

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When you’re a tech startup attempting to do something as ambitious as mining asteroids in outer space, it’s good to make some well-placed friends.

So it makes sense that asteroid mining startup Planetary Resources has inked an agreement with private space flight company Virgin Galactic to utilize its new LauncherOne, a product purportedly designed to send satellites into space cheaper and much more efficiently than the status quo.

Under the terms of the deal, LauncherOne will provide launch capabilities for Planetary Resources’ “Arkyd” series of spacecraft, which are meant to explore and potentially mine and develop asteroids that are close to Earth.

Startups are notoriously competitive with one another, so it’s kind of fun to see two companies in the same space (really, no pun intended there) teaming up and sharing resources. Historically, space exploration and development has needed the backing of governments and the tax dollars of literally millions of people to get off the ground — so it’s nice that privately-owned companies are acknowledging the need to be at least a little bit collectivist in their practices. How far and wide they share any spoils they find in outer space, of course, remains to be seen.

Anyway, rock on space explorers. It’s certainly going to be fun watching this industry develop.

Here is the full press release announcing the Planetary Resources/Virgin Galactic agreement:

Bellevue, Wash. – July 11, 2012 – Planetary Resources, Inc., the asteroid mining company, announced today an agreement with Virgin Galactic, LLC that will enable multiple launch opportunities for its series of spacecraft, including the Arkyd-100 low-Earth orbit (LEO) space telescopes.

Continuous, low-cost launch services for small spacecraft to LEO assists in accelerating Planetary Resources’ vision to make valuable space resources from Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) available to humanity. “While the Arkyd spacecraft line itself radically reduces the traditional cost of exploring the NEAs, the less expensive the cost to launch an Arkyd spacecraft to LEO, the more spacecraft the company will launch. The more spacecraft that the company launches, the faster it will create a future where access to asteroid resources results in a vast network of propellant depots throughout space and a future where once precious and rare materials are abundant for all. This will enable humanity’s prosperity to continue for centuries to come,” said Eric Anderson, Co-Founder & Co-Chairman of Planetary Resources, Inc.

Of the nearly 10,000 known NEAs, there are more than 1,500 that are energetically as easy to reach as the Moon. In the next few years, constellations of Arkyd-100 Series space telescopes will help fulfill the company’s early objective of identifying additional energetically-optimal, highly-valuable NEAs which will then be added to the detailed list of the company’s prospecting targets and pursued for future potential resource extraction.

“We are excited to announce this agreement with Virgin Galactic. 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,” said Mr. Anderson.

“We are developing the LauncherOne to deliver small satellites to LEO in a reliable fashion, with the capability to fly dozens of times per year. LauncherOne leverages our work in the area of commercial human spaceflight, and will provide reliable, regular launch opportunities to enable Planetary Resources to explore and develop valuable resources from asteroids,” said George Whitesides, President and CEO of Virgin Galactic, LLC.

Chris Lewicki, President and Chief Engineer of Planetary Resources, Inc., noted that “As Planetary Resources works to expand humanity’s resource base, we also plan to increase scientific and commercial access to the Earth and deep space by developing capable and cost-efficient spacecraft. Interest in using our Arkyd-100 Series for commercial purposes – in addition to finding asteroids – has been very strong.”