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Planetary Resources Blogs Design Goals on its Low-cost Space Telescopes

Satellite Technology

Satellite Technology Feature Article

July 13, 2012

Planetary Resources Blogs Design Goals on its Low-cost Space Telescopes

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

Riding on the heels of its deal with Virgin Galactic to buy launch services, commercial asteroid mining firm Planetary Resources is releasing more details on its Arkyd-100 series satellites. The low-cost space telescope will weigh less than 30 kilograms and hitch rides as secondary payloads on a number of launch services.

A July 13, 2012 blog entry entitled "Planetary & Virgin Galactic, Tech Details…" notes that Virgin Galactic's LauncherOne air-launch rocket can put up to 225 kilograms into orbit "enough payload to launch about eight Arkyd-100 satellites."   This would put a single satellite at around 28 kilograms (a hair less than 62 pounds).

The rest of the blog posting is credited to Planetary Resources president, chief engineer & chief Asteroid Miner, Chris Lewicki and discusses the features of the Arkyd-100 asteroid prospecting "bus" used in low Earth orbit (LEO) as a space telescope and for technology development.  

An Arkyd-100 satellite features a 25 centimeter aperture telescope optic with less than one degree field of view for arc-second resolution. It will have fine attitude knowledge and control for precision pointing, along with solar arrays, batteries, and a computer and electronics able to tolerate the space environment.

Other specifications include the ability for one person to carry a spacecraft safely, the ability to ship it via commercial services or air transport (Can't wait to see the FedEx or UPS commercial), easily made in batches of dozens, a spacecraft configuration "featuring the optic" to put the biggest aperture as the volume will allow, adaptable to many instruments, and operable by "an astrophysicist, Linux kernel hacker, or grade school teacher."

The Arkyd-100 will be specifically used to master areas of precision pointing and communications. Pointing may be done via reaction wheels or control moment gyros. The spacecraft needs to be able to point to 1 arc-second --- the thickness of a postcard across a football field -- for laser communication. Planetary plans to combine lasers with its telescope optics for high-speed communication so it won't have to use large radios and antenna that add mass and require more power.

Lewicki ends his post with a crowd-sourcing call for ideas to improve manufacturing, spacecraft operating systems, and reliability. 

"How could we apply what engineers have learned in other high quality, mass production areas – say something like designing and manufacturing sports cars – and apply that experience to exploring space in new ways?," Lewicki asks. "Can software development techniques for mobile-device Apps make a better spacecraft operating system? How can the reliability research from automotive safety system (like electronic anti-lock brakes) make a more reliable spacecraft?"

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Edited by Brooke Neuman

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