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Planetary Resources plans to launch Earth-observing satellites as a precursor to asteroid mining ops

Astroid mining company Planetary Resources has big plans for the future, and those plans now include an Earth-observing satellite network. This turnaround in focus is driven partially by finances, with the company receiving US$21.1 million in Series A funding for its satellite network. The network isn’t just for space selfies either — it will actually provide scientists, government officials and other decision-makers with critical environmental information. It also will serve a precursor to the company’s planned asteroid mining operations.

In a bit of bad news, the Asteroid mining company put the brakes on a highly publicized Kickstarter-funded project that would allow backers to snap a selfie from orbit using the company’s proposed space telescope. The company confirmed in a statement to Geekwire that it cannot follow through on the project despite raising $1.5 million from more than 17,000 backers. This amount exceeded the company’s wildest expectations, but it was not enough to get the project off the ground. “What we didn’t find, since the campaign closed a few years ago, was the follow-on interest to take it from a project and scale it into a fully funded mission. … We’re going to wind down the project and bring it to a close,” said Planetary Resources president and CEO Chris Lewicki to Geekwire.

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At the same time it announced the demise of its selfie space idea, the company also announced a new round of Series A funding to develop an Earth-observing satellite system. Dubbed Ceres, the project was spurred by the corporation’s interest in asteroid mining. The Ceres network will include up to 10 small satellites launched into the Earth’s orbit that will provide weekly hyperspectral (visible to near infrared) and mid-infrared recordings of the planet. These measurements provide more than just a bird’s eye view of the Earth; they will also measure surface temperature, water content and more. These metrics can be used to monitor water quality, manage crops and detect forest fires.

This first round of funding will supply the capital necessary to begin the development of the system, which will take approximately two years. Additional money will be required to make the system operational in 2018. Planetary Resources is developing the satellite sensor platform and will test the technology as part of a planned launch of the company’s Arkyd 6 spacecraft via a Space X Falcon 9 rocket. Once fully deployed, Planetary Resources hopes to use the Ceres technology for its future mining operations. “When complete, we’ll really have retired the risk and gone operational on much of the system that’s required to do the asteroid mission,” said Lewicki in an interview with SpaceNews. If all goes as planned, Planetary Resources could begin mining as early as 2019 or 2020.