Google's Page, Virgin's Branson backed satellite on failed launch

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 29, 2014 4:12 PM

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Google Inc Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder Larry Page and Chairman Eric Schmidt are among a roster of billionaires who backed a small satellite built by privately held Planetary Resources Inc that was aboard an unmanned rocket that blew up during a launch on Tuesday.

Planetary Resources, which intends to mine asteroids for fuel, water and minerals, said it also counts Virgin Group Founder Richard Branson, Ross Perot Jr, former Microsoft Corp executive Charles Simonyi and John Whitehead, the former chief executive of Goldman Sachs Group Inc, among its investors.

The investors also include Ram Shriram, former executive at Amazon.com, and Bryan Johnson, founder of online mobile payments company Braintree.

As an interim step, the Redmond, Washington-based company is developing small satellites with miniature sensors that can communicate with Earth. The Arkyd 3 was one of the test satellites to prove its technology, the company said.

The Antares rocket that exploded on Tuesday was built and launched by Orbital Sciences Corp, and was primarily carrying a Cygnus cargo ship with supplies for the International Space Station.

Rather than using dedicated launch vehicles that can cost millions per launch, Planetary Resources is building "spacecraft small enough to hitch a ride into space with larger, primary payloads," the company said.

"Spaceflight is inherently risky," Planetary Resources said in a statement, noting that the loss of its Arkyd 3 satellite, a 12-inch by 4-inch unit weighing 10 pounds, would not affect development of its next satellite, known as the Arkyd 6, which has been in development for several months.

"With the A3, the Planetary Resources' team achieved most of our objectives when we delivered the spacecraft to the launch integration site," the company said.

Planetary Resources said it will use Spaceflight Services Inc of Tukwila, Washington, to configure a ride on a future commercial launch vehicle in the United States. The launch is scheduled for the third quarter of next year.

(Reporting by Alwyn Scott and Bill Rigby; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)