Leo Space Telescope
That's $20 million less than its closest competitor, the already low-cost SpaceX Falcon 9. In addition, being launched from a plane means that you can clear the launch pad quickly and deliver the next launcher just as fast, enabling a large number of launches. Virgin Galactic is planning on handling at least a dozen within the first year of operating the LauncherOne. Better yet, Sir Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Galactic, claims that it should be operational in 2013. Of course, the satellites can only weigh 500 pounds, a fraction of what most satellites weigh.
Planetary Resources is planning an initial fleet of small satellites designed specifically for spotting asteroids with a potential for mining. Once the call is made, a small satellite will orbit the asteroid to gather more information. Then another one will be sent to land and sample the asteroid if it proves promising. Finally, Planetary Resources will send an autonomous mining robot to the asteroid. Right now, the resource that Planetary Resources is looking for the most is water.
LauncherOne will be powering the first set of Arkyd launches, the small asteroid-hunting satellites in the Arkyd-100 series.
This is a cool team up, and one that shows there is a lot of potential for smaller missions. Together with innovative new propulsion methods like the Microthrust ion thruster could propel a new age of space innovations. Interestingly, I was crunching some numbers. You can now mount a moon-aimed space program for less than $20 million in total costs. Now that's a Kickstarter I'd like to see.
Forbes Photo by : Planetary Resources