Sending a spacecraft into deep space is an energetically expensive proposition.
Conventionally, a spacecraft headed out into the Solar System would be placed directly on its outbound trajectory by its own launch vehicle. This launch vehicle alone can be a $100 Million proposition, or more. We are taking a different path. Our Arkyd prospecting spacecraft are small enough to hitch a ride into space with larger, primary payloads. We launch one at a time into an orbit based on the needs of the rocket’s primary payload. This presents a challenge, as a rendezvous with a solar-orbiting asteroid requires departing Earth at a very specific time, at a specific speed, and in a very specific direction. Otherwise, you could miss your rendezvous by thousands, or even millions, of kilometers.
Planetary Resources solves this problem by being able to make its own way to near Earth asteroids directly from the low Earth orbit where it is placed as a secondary payload. Once in orbit, the Arkyd spacecraft uses its onboard propulsion system and an advantage of the Earth’s gravitational influence called the Oberth effect to escape Earth’s gravity well and head towards a future rendezvous with the NEA of interest.
The Arkyd spacecraft also employs two key technologies to enable this scale of propulsive capability on such a small platform. First, the system uses one of a new family of green, non-toxic monopropellants. This allows the spacecraft, as a secondary payload, to be successfully integrated for launch without significant schedule impact or safety risk to the rocket’s primary satellite customer. Second, this propellant is stored and managed within a propulsion system that is directly integrated into the spacecraft’s primary structure. Working with its strategic investor and partner 3D Systems, Planetary Resources is using additive manufacturing techniques to directly integrate the system’s manifold, plenum, and routing geometries directly into structural elements that support the spacecraft’s elements during the rigors of launch. By doing so, a system that conventionally consists of hundreds of parts and countless workmanship-sensitive assembly operations is now simplified down to just a handful of components, resulting in a system that is at once lighter, cheaper, safer, and much easier to build again and again.