VANCOUVER (miningweekly.com) – Space mining hopeful Planetary Resources has successfully launched its latest satellite, the Arkyd-6 – a 6U CubeSat – containing a demonstration of technology designed to detect water resources in space.
Planetary reported that the team has already started receiving telemetry from the spacecraft, which will be used to develop the Arkyd-301, Planetary’s next spacecraft platform and the start of the company’s space resource exploration programme.
Importantly, Planetary advised that the engineering team was able to modify commercial hardware to be used in space, allowing for the possibility of deep-space missions at greatly reduced costs. This process also allows for control at every stage of development and production resulting in a reliable and innovative product.
“The success of the Arykd-6 will validate and inform the design and engineering philosophies we have embraced since the beginning of this innovative project. We will continue to employ these methods through the development of the Arkyd-301 and beyond as we progress toward our Space Resource Exploration Mission,” president and CEO Chris Lewicki said in a statement Friday.
Out of 17 elements that will be tested during Arkyd-6’s flight, one of the most critical technologies is the on-board mid-wave infrared (MWIR) imager. The technical team qualified a commercial sensor to collect pixel-level data and integrated custom optics, creating the world’s first commercial MWIR instrument to be used in space. Based on the findings from this initial flight, Planetary will further develop this sensor technology into the most advanced water resource detection hardware available, which will be incorporated into Arkyd-301.
“If all of the experimental systems operate successfully, Planetary intends to use the Arkyd-6 satellite to capture MWIR images of targets on Earth’s surface, including agricultural land, resource exploration regions, and infrastructure for mining and energy. In addition, we will also have the opportunity to perform specific celestial observations from our vantage point in low Earth orbit,” chief engineer Chris Voorhees added.
Arkyd-6 will be testing other technologies such as power generation, attitude determination, instrument operation and two-way communication. Although the spacecraft is fully autonomous and able to execute all functions independently, it will continue to communicate with mission control through every critical check point, the company said.
Planetary Resources considers asteroid mining a first and key step to the eventual colonisation and commercialisation of space. Planetary will first aim for the low-hanging fruit – the near-earth asteroids of which some 13 000 have been identified to date. The company has previously estimated that these could contain up to 42-trillion tons of resources, including nickel, iron-ore and precious metals at much higher grades than those found on Earth.