Planetary Resources Hits Bump in the Road

Arkyd-6 spacecraft (Credit: Planetary Resources)

Alan Boyle at GeekWire reports that asteroid mining company Planetary Resources has been forced to make some cutbacks.

A spokeswoman for Planetary Resources, Stacey Tearne, told GeekWire that financial challenges have forced the company to focus on leveraging the Arkyd-6 mission for near-term revenue — apparently by selling imagery and data.

“Planetary Resources missed a fundraising milestone,” Tearne explained in an email. “The company remains committed to utilizing the resources from space to further explore space, but is focusing on near-term revenue streams by maximizing the opportunity of having a spacecraft in orbit.”

Tearne said no further information was available, and did not address questions about employment cutbacks. However, reports from other sources in the space community suggest there have been notable job reductions. For what it’s worth, Planetary Resources had more than 70 employees at last report.

Planetary Resources has always been a bit of a puzzle. It started way back in 2009 as Arkyd Astronautics, then came out of stealth mode in April 2012 — six long years ago — with Peter Diamandis, Eric Anderson and a handful of prominent billionaire backers that included Richard Branson and Google’s Eric Schmidt and Larry Page.

During the launch event, Peter D — whose ability to hype things has grown exponentially over the years — conjured up images of a trillion-dollar company mining the sky and becoming the engine of the space economy. It all sounded great, bring it on, allons-y!

The problem the company seems to have is that asteroid mining is a long-term venture. In the meantime, it’s got to find revenue generating activities to bring in money and partners willing to fund the research and development (R&D) work needed to make asteroid mining a reality.

The list of billionaires and millionaires advertised during the roll out was impressive enough, but it’s not clear how much money they’re actually investing in the company. There doesn’t appear to be a Jeff Bezos in the group willing to invest $1 billion per year (or whatever it would take) to develop the technologies needed in the near term.

Then there were the pivots. The company launched a your selfie in space Kickstarter campaign that got a lot of interest. But, the plan was dependent upon raising additional money to launch the satellite. When the funding didn’t materialize, the project was canceled and the money refunded.

Planetary Resources did raise money for a planned constellation of remote sensing satellites. However, plans to enter that competitive and increasingly crowded market were quietly dropped.

The company has received investment from Luxembourg, which has taken a strong interest in space resources. That funding should help the company with R&D work. By the same token, this is a commercial venture backed by some of the world’s richest men who are supposed to become illionaires with a “t”. So, why aren’t they investing more? Why is government funding needed?

Arkyd-6 is the company’s third satellite since it was founded in 2009. The first was destroyed in the explosion of an Antares rocket on Oct. 31, 2014. The second was later successfully launched from the International Space Station. However, in sharp contrast to the publicity accorded Arkyd-6, Planetary Resources said very little about it after it was released from the station.

  • ThomasLMatula

    I am not surprised as I assumed that was always the purpose of Arkyd 6.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    In common with the current interest in lunar activities, the biggest showstopper is launch cost. No human (or machine) activity will ever happen in space on any meaningful scale until we have lower lunch costs – which will not happen until we have fully reusable launch architectures.

  • Bill

    Space mining is so passe. Dr. Diamandis is on to raising money for his next startup – $250 million for Cellularity last week:

  • Aegis Maelstrom

    Not really. Telco sats have a pretty meaningful scale – idk about you but I am watching my Olympics from Korea at home or watch TV while on some planes. 🙂

    My mobile also tells me where I am or where my stuff is and AFAIK geolocation works OK.

    Sat pictures are available. Espionage flourishes. Environmental and weather sats monitor the situation. Space observatories delivered pretty much.

    Could we have much more? Sure. But don’t tell me we haven’t achieved anything meaningful.

    And BTW, currently the spacecraft costs and capabilities are the most important (unless we discuss SLS which is an outlier).

  • Jacob Samorodin

    Remember NEAP? And SpaceDev? They were set up in 1997 to mine asteroids. What happened? Answer: Not one nanogram of asteroid material was ever mined. The companies lost momentum as far as raising money goes. No bucks, no Buck Rogers! It looks like Planetary Resources is losing momentum too, as far as financing goes. BTW, something did come out of SpaceDev (Doug Messier may be interested): a hybrid propulsion system that used rubber and (you guessed it!) nitrous oxide.

  • ThomasLMatula

    And the Dream Chaser…

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    hmmm, seems that “meaningful scale” can mean all things to all men. What I mean is something like: millions of humans working/living beyond Earth, humans living on the Moon, humans living on Mars, asteroids/moons/planets mined for mineral resources. Exploring and colonising the solar system meaningful, rather than 300 television channels meaningful.

    BFR and its inevitable clones could put a million people on Mars in a hundred years. Without fully reusable launch there might be a hundred people working/living in LEO in a hundred years.