Financially strapped Planetary Resources gets set to auction off equipment at HQ

Planetary Resources is selling off equipment from its headquarters in Redmond, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

In a fresh sign of the financial straits facing Planetary Resources, the asteroid mining company will be auctioning off hundreds of items from its headquarters in Redmond, Wash., ranging from industrial-strength CNC machine tools and 3-D printers to laptops and folding chairs.

The online auction will be conducted by James G. Murphy & Co. from Aug. 21 to 28, with a preview scheduled on Aug. 27 at Planetary Resources’ machine shop, lab and offices at 6742 185th Ave. NE in Redmond.

“We are preparing to sell some equipment that we’ve identified as not currently needed and easily replaceable,” Chris Lewicki, Planetary Resources’ president, CEO and chief asteroid miner, told GeekWire in an email. “This is a result of reducing overhead as we go forward with our smaller team.”

Planetary Resources was founded in its present form in 2012, with initial backing from billionaires including Larry Page, Eric Schmidt, Ross Perot Jr. and Charles Simonyi. Over the past six years, the venture has raised tens of millions of dollars and sent two small experimental satellites into orbit. Those missions, Arkyd-3R and Arkyd-6A, were aimed at laying the groundwork for even more ambitious efforts to scout out near-Earth asteroids for valuable resources.

News Brief: The latest “State of the Industry” report for small orbital-class launch vehicles tracks 101 reported efforts to create such rockets, compared with a mere 31 in 2015. But many of those efforts are defunct or in limbo, Northrop Grumman’s Carlos Niederstrasser said today at the SmallSat Conference in Logan, Utah. “We’re definitely starting to see attrition” in the industry, he said. Niederstrasser said only four small launch vehicles have entered service since 2015: three Chinese rockets and Rocket Lab’s Electron. He also noted that the per-kilogram price for putting a payload in orbit can go as high as $50,000. “These small launch vehicles are not going to be the cheapest way to get into the orbit,” Niederstrasser said. “Their main selling point is convenience. … If you really want the cheapest access to space, you’re still pretty much left with the rideshare domain.” Check out the full report.

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The company’s business plan had called for beginning the prospecting effort in earnest in the 2020s. One of the first targets was to mine asteroidal water ice for conversion into propellants for in-space rocket refueling. For a time, Planetary Resources’ scores of employees were also working on an Earth observation network of satellites known as Ceres.

In the early days, Planetary Resources said it would capitalize on a “trillion-dollar business” in asteroid mining. But last year, the company missed out on what was seen as a crucial investment round.

“We didn’t have the funding coming in to support continued technological development,” Lewicki told GeekWire in June.

Planetary Resources drastically reduced its staff and redoubled its efforts to find funding. In today’s email, Lewicki made clear that those efforts are continuing.

“We continue to work on our updated plans and hope to be able to share some more detailed updates soon,” he said.

Update for 5:15 p.m. PT Aug. 7: This report was updated with Lewicki’s comments.

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