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The cat got let out of the bag a little early, but Planetary Resources has now officially announced its existence and mission. We already told you that the venture plans to mine asteroids for profit, and is backed by a bunch of bigwigs from Silicon Valley and Hollywood. But now we know a bit more about the company after watching its announcement webcast and speaking with co-founder Peter Diamandis. Turns out, the company sees itself not only as a business venture, but as an entity that will pave the way for extending human influence throughout the solar system. Read on after the break for more. Sure, Planetary Resources is hoping to find huge chunks of platinum and other precious metals and minerals in space, but its first priority is finding asteroids rich in water. You see, water is perhaps the most valuable resource in the cosmos not only because it's needed to support life, but also because it can be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen - which just happen to be the perfect rocket propellant. So, the plan is to find these H20-rich rocks in our solar system and use them as gas stations to fuel further exploration and enable the mining operations that follow. To find its quarry, Planetary Resources won't simply be pointing a rocket at the nearest asteroid and hoping for the best, instead, its plan is to build a series of spacecraft to identify and prospect near-earth asteroids. These spacecraft, dubbed the Arkyd series, will be cheap (1x100 the cost of existing craft), small and lightweight (around 20kg), and will be deployed in swarms of up to 20 at a time. It's a new way of space exploration that relies on redundancy to ameliorate the risk of failure, instead of pouring considerable resources into one (hopefully) fail-proof vehicle. Plus, the company anticipates that its inevitable mistakes will help it iterate rapidly and improve the spacecraft technology from mission to mission. Part of the reason Planetary Resources thinks it'll be able to adapt so quickly is that it's leveraging and developing cutting edge technology with a small engineering staff of a couple dozen folks. First up is the Arkyd 100 Series, a low earth orbit telescope - capable of seeing up to 90 million miles away in ideal lighting conditions - to find asteroids worth prospecting. It's also going to be made available as a private space telescope, initially costing around $3-5 million with the price dropping accordingly should customers proliferate enough to reduce production costs. Once appropriate asteroids are identified, then the Arkyd 200, a powered version of the 100 with additional instrumentation, will be deployed to intercept the asteroids and gather more detailed data on their contents. Once the highest quality targets are found, then the 300 series, with its advanced laser-based communications, will set to work surveying Thus far, Planetary Resources has neither revealed how it will actually excavate these asteroids nor how it'll bring the potentially billions of dollars worth of cargo back to earth, but it's just getting started and the company claims that it'll be possible by leveraging unnamed future technologies. The current plan is for the first 100 Series launch to happen in 18-24 months, and for the first asteroid targets to be surveyed by the end of the decade. When asked how the company was going to get its Arkyds into space, the company wouldn't say what launch vehicle will be used. Peter Diamandis told us that he is, naturally, quite fond of SpaceX's Falcon 9, but it's not the only option under consideration - the Arkyd craft are small enough to hitch a ride on other satellite launches as a secondary passenger, so dedicated launch vehicles may not be necessary. Despite these (relatively) inexpensive spacecraft and launch options, there are questions as to how the company will make money in the short term. Not to worry, said co-founder Eric Anderson, as the company has completed its funding and already counts NASA as a customer of the Arkyd 300's optical communications technology. Will Planetary Resources succeed in opening up an interstellar highway and unlocking untold riches in our solar system? No one can say for sure, but we know we'll be watching its progress with great interest, hoping for future gadgets made from stuff found in space.