Prospecting for resource-rich asteroids close to Earth has taken a step forward following Planetary Resources’ successful spacecraft deployment which will validate technologies for use in the spacecraft which will ultimately prospect for asteroid mineral resources.

Planetary Resources was founded in 2009 to establish a new paradigm for resource utilisation that will bring the Solar System within humanity’s economic sphere of influence.

The company will conduct low-cost robotic space exploration beginning with the Arkyd series of space missions that will identify the most commercially viable near-Earth asteroids. These initial missions will assist the company in enabling the retrieval of raw materials from these select asteroids, including water, precious metals and more.

A3R with Planetary Resources team
A3R with Planetary Resources team

The company has now successfully deployed its Arkyd 3 Reflight (A3R) spacecraft from the International Space Station’s (ISS) Kibo airlock and has begun its 90-day mission.

The demonstration vehicle will validate several core technologies including the avionics, control systems and software, which the company will incorporate into future spacecraft that will venture into the Solar System and prospect “near-Earth asteroids”.

“Our philosophy is to test often, and if possible, to test in space.  The A3R is the most sophisticated, yet cost-effective, test demonstration spacecraft ever built.  We are innovating on every level from design to launch,” says Chris Lewicki, president and chief engineer, Planetary Resources.

“By vertically integrating the system at our facility in Redmond, we are in constant control of every component, including the ones we purchase off the shelf and the others that we manufacture using 3D printers.”

Dr Peter Diamandis; MD, co-founder and co-chairman of Planetary Resources states, “The successful deployment of the A3R is a significant milestone for Planetary Resources as we forge a path toward prospecting resource-rich asteroids. Our team is developing the technology that will enable humanity to create an off-planet economy that will fundamentally change the way we live on Earth.”

Once the A3R completes its mission, the validated and evolved technologies will be the main components of the Arkyd series of deep-space asteroid-prospecting spacecraft. The next demonstrator, the Arkyd-6 (A6), is scheduled to launch later this year and will test the next generation of attitude control, power, communication and avionics systems and also add sensors for detection and characterisation of resources.

Planetary Resources is leveraging the increased payload capacity of the A6 to begin demonstration of core technology to measure resources on water-rich asteroids. Included in the payload is a mid-wave infra-red imaging system, able to precisely measure temperature differences of the objects it observes, as well as acquire key data related to the presence of water and water-bearing minerals.

The system will first test targeted areas of our own planet before being deployed to near-Earth asteroids on future missions.

Eric Anderson, co-founder and co-chairman, Planetary Resources says, “This key technology for determining resources on asteroids can also be applied towards monitoring and managing high-value resources on our home planet. All of our work at Planetary Resources is laying the foundation to better manage and increase humanity’s access to natural resources on our planet and in our Solar System.”

Strong financial backing and expertise

Planetary Resources is financed by industry-launching visionaries, three of whom include Google’s CEO Larry Page and Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt; and Ross Perot, Jr., Chairman of Hillwood and The Perot Group; who are committed to expanding the world’s resource base so humanity can continue to grow and prosper for centuries to come.

Some of the company’s partners and advisors include the Bechtel Corporation; film maker and explorer James Cameron; former Chief of Staff, United States Air Force General T. Michael Moseley (Ret.); Sara Seager, Ph.D., professor of Planetary Science & Physics at MIT and TED fellow; and Dante Lauretta, Ph.D., professor of Planetary Science at the University of Arizona and principal investigator of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission.

Members of the company’s technical staff have worked on every recent U.S. Mars lander including Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity, and include other key non-aerospace and safety-critical disciplines.

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