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Asteroid miners to strap 'scopes to new Virgin Galactic rocket

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Washington-based Planetary Resources is pursuing the dream of mining near-Earth asteroids, signing a deal with the UK's Virgin Galactic for payload services.

Planetary Resoures wants to use Virgin Galactic's LauncherOne booster to blast a series of robot craft into space to pave the way for asteroid mining.

The firm's Arkyd-100 telescopes will be among the launches, searching out near-Earth asteroids that have lots of valuable stuff in them and figuring out if they're within range. LauncherOne is a good fit for getting the scopes into space because of its low cost, the company said.

"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," Eric Anderson, co-founder of Planetary Resources, opined.

According to the space-mining-wannabe, there are over 1,500 asteroids close enough to home that they can be reached with the same ease as getting to the Moon. Which is not that easy really but at least it's been done.

Anderson hopes LauncherOne will fire up several constellations of Arkyd-100 Series spacecraft in the next few years.

Virgin Galactic announced the LauncherOne rocket at the Farnborough Air Show earlier this week, and said it expects the vehicle to start commercial flights by 2016. The firm said it wanted to "offer frequent and dedicated launches at the world's lowest prices".

"LauncherOne is bringing the price of satellite launch into the realm of affordability for innovators everywhere, from start-ups and schools to established companies and national space agencies," Sir Richard Branson said at the event. "It will be a critical new tool for the global research community, enabling us all to learn about our home planet more quickly and affordably."

The rocket will be a two-stage vehicle that can carry up to 225kg and will be able to reach low-Earth orbit for bargain prices under $10m, Virgin Galactic claims. LauncherOne will start out strapped to the firm's WhiteKnightTwo aircraft, just like the SpaceShipTwo tourist flights. ®

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