Asteroid miner Planetary Resources has successfully deployed from the International Space Station to trial space prospecting.
The company has launched its Arkyd 3 Reflight spacecraft from the ISS on a 90 day mission in order to validate its core technologies.
“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,” Chris Lewicki, president and chief engineer at Planetary Resources, said.
The news is a major leap forward both fro the company and the sector, after Planetary Resources last year saw its test mining vehicle explode soon after take-off.
The asteroid mining company saw its Arkyd 3 (A3) test vehicle, which was being delivered to the International Space Station before being deployed into low-Earth orbit, blow up along with the rocket, contracted to Orbital Sciences Corp by NASA.
This latest vehicle launched to the ISS onboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 last year, as part of a resupply missions.
Following the launch Peter H. Diamandis, co-founder of Planetary Resources, stated: “The 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.”
According to the company the mission will test the technologies that will be used in the evolution of the Arkyd series of deep-space prospecting craft.
“The next demonstrator, the Arkyd-6 (A6), will be launched later this year and will test the attitude control, power, communication and avionics systems,” the company added.
Planetary Resources will use the increased payload capacity of the A6 to measure resources on water-rich asteroids.
Included in the next payload will be a mid-wave infrared imaging system.
The launch comes as an asteroid believed to contain between US$300 billion to US$5.4 trillion worth of platinum group metals and other minerals flew by earth over the weekend.
Asteroid 2011 UW-158 came within 1.5 million miles of earth, thirty times closer to earth than Mars, although it is still more than five times further away than the moon.
The rock is approximately less than a kilometre across, but has made the short list of Near Earth Objects that contain mineable metals, according to the Slooh Community Observatory.
These events come on the tail of the US passing major legislation focused on space mining and the legal rights of ownership of objects in space.
The US first drafted its first space mining focused bills in September last year, in order to promote the development of a commercial asteroid resources industry for outer space in the United States and to increase the exploration and utilisation of asteroid resources in outer space”.
This was the first major step in regulating and supporting extra-terrestrial mining since the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which set out international standards for space exploration and ownership of materials found in space.
Now the US has taken the lead again, with the passing of its ‘Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act of 2015’, which is designed to establish “the guidelines regarding the development of space resources by non-federal entities”.
“This bill would create a domestic framework for assigning property rights for resources from asteroids and for settling any related legal disputes,” the bill states.
This means companies, as opposed to only nation states, have the rights to resources they obtain in space.
“Any asteroid resources obtained in outer space are the property of the entity that obtained such resources, which shall be entitled to all property rights thereto, consistent with applicable provisions of Federal law,” the bill states.
Prior to this bill no legislation existed outlining the rights of companies to resources mined from asteroids, although the issue of lunar mining still remains a contentious one.
However, it is not only the US where steps forward are being taken in terms of mining in space.
The probe will be sent on a four year voyage to an asteroid dubbed 1999JU3.
The project is run by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
The exploration satellite will arrive at the asteroid in 2018, when it will fire a projectile into the asteroid to blast off material, gather the loose material and then return to Earth.
To get a deeper understanding to the how and why of space mining, click here to see an infographic on the new industry.