Looking for the next Unicorn? Look no further (okay, just joking – sorta) Planetary Resources, a company that looks at the possibility of mining asteroids has raised $21.1 million in Series A Funding, which will deployed in monitoring resources on Earth.
The main focus of the company has always been prospecting and mineral extraction of near-earth asteroids. Working with the technology they have developed to serve this purpose, they are using this latest funding to operate Ceres, a business which will observe the Earth, giving information on the natural resources across every corner of the globe.
Ceres contains an infrared and hyperspectral sensor platform. This will be the first time this technology has been commercially used. The infrared sensor will be able to offer thermographic information, and the hyper spectral sensor provides an incredible 40 color bands, ranging from the visible to near-infrared.
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The technology moves this area of research beyond what was previously available. Satellites can currently provide a bird’s eye view of the earth and asteroids, but Ceres, using the Planetary Resources’ Arkyd spacecraft, and ten orbiting satellites, will provide information on thermographic properties and the actual mineral composition of the surface of the Earth. This has has never been possible before.
It is thought that this technology will provide valuable monitoring for a large number of industries, including agriculture where customized crop information will be available. Assistance can be provided to the forestry industry by earlier detection of wildfires. Observing energy or mineral resources will be of interest to the oil & gas industry and monitoring rapid growth of algae that might be toxic will help with tracking international water quality standards.
Back to Earth
This is a change in direction for Planetary Resources, who started life as a company looking out into the skies, but have now turned the telescope back around to focus back on earth. Chris Lewicki, the president and CEO of Planetary Resources stated, “it leverages everything that we have been working on for the last several years … and it moves us forward in the direction of asteroid prospecting.”
Discussing the work already completed in the asteroid arena, Lewicki explained the synergies, “As we continue toward our vision of the expansion of humanity and our economy into the Solar System, our team has been working on the critical technologies required to detect and identify the most commercially viable near-Earth asteroids and their resources.”
He added, “to characterize these resources, it required more than just a picture, and our team has developed advanced spectral sensors to serve this need. We have also created new technologies for onboard computing, low-cost space platforms, and are now applying these transformative technologies in additional markets.”
The sensor platform is currently in the testing phase, and the company hopes an upcoming space mission will prove the technology’s abilities.
Asteroids and mining
While Hilary Clinton won’t win the state of West Virginia period, she’s drawn the ire of miners specifically. I’ve maintained for many years that the UK is better off without mining but it remains an industry regardless. Coal mining, at the end of the day, shouldn’t be a profession but it is and will remain so for likely the length of my life time as a heavy smoker. That said, mining an asteroid might be less of a health risk than coal mining and there will be no canary you need worry about over your shoulder.
Below is an excerpt from the company website along with a video – presented without comment
Asteroids will fuel a mass-constrained economy in orbit and back on Earth. In orbit, spacecraft propellant is a multi-billion dollar industry with each pound of fuel worth more than an equivalent pound of gold on Earth. Certain asteroids are loaded with hydrogen and oxygen, the components of rocket fuel. These asteroids can provide a fuel source that is 100 times closer energetically to Earth orbit, and thus far less expensive, than the Apollo-Era “bring-everything-with-you” propellant used today.
Back on Earth, platinum group metals are necessary for everything from catalytic converters to jewelry to the construction of electronics, medical devices, glass, and turbine blades. Despite their high price tags, these metals are used to manufacture one in four goods that we use everyday.
Today, the major sources of platinum group metals are concentrated in South Africa and Russia, and becoming increasingly hard to access over time. But in space, a single 500-meter platinum-rich asteroid contains more platinum than has been mined in the history of humanity. Planetary Resources is building the technology to access these resources today. Learn more about how Asteroid Mining will fuel human expansion into the Cosmos.