Planetary Resources turns asteroid prospecting satellites toward Earth

The Ceres observation system will be based on the Arkyd asteroid prospecting satellite(Credit: Planetary Resources)

If it could work with asteroids, why not the Earth? That's the thinking behind space mining company Planetary Resources' plan to adapt its asteroid prospecting satellite design to Earth observation. The Washington-based firm says that this Earth observation system, dubbed Ceres, will see a new version of its Arkyd spacecraft equipped with infrared and hyperspectral sensors developed for monitoring Earth resources and industries.

Planetary Resources says the US$21.1 million Series A raised for the project will be used to repurpose the company's Arkyd spacecraft, which is small space telescope developed for identifying and analyzing asteroids for future mining operations, for terrestrial duties.

Ceres will consist of a constellation of 10 low-Earth orbit satellites designed to provide cheaper on-demand information about natural resources and industrial activity anywhere on Earth. It will achieve this by means of instruments that go beyond the standard visual imaging range to include higher spectral resolutions in 40 color bands in the visible to near-infrared spectrum. In addition, Ceres will have a midwave-infrared sensor to give it night imaging and thermal imaging capabilities.

When the technology is mature, Planetary Resources sees it as having applications in mineral prospecting and analysis, agriculture, oil and gas explorations, forestry, and industrial plant and infrastructure monitoring. It will also be used to track toxic algae blooms, water pollution, and wildfires.

The company says that it is currently testing the Ceres' sensor platform and hopes to provide a demonstration version on a future version of the Arkyd 6 satellite, which will be put into orbit by a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster. Once on station, it will test the thermographic sensor and supporting technologies.

"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," says Chris Lewicki, President and CEO, Planetary Resources. "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 video below discusses Ceres' proposed capabilities.

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