Planetary Resources' new satellite launch is big step in the mission to mine water from asteroids

Key Points
  • Planetary Resources' Arkyd-6 satellite is in orbit, a halfway point to sending spacecraft to prospect asteroids for mining.
  • 31 satellites deployed into orbit Friday on one rocket, a milestone for many space companies.
  • Also on board was ICEYE's inaugural craft, the first commercial satellite for Finland.
PSLV-C40 launches from the First Launch Pad of Satish Dhawan Space Centre.
Indian Space Research Organization

An Indian-built PSLV rocket successfully deployed 31 satellites from seven countries into orbit Friday, a big step in the burgeoning global space industry.

Among them was Planetary Resources' Arkyd-6 satellite, which has the ambitious mission of learning how to prospect asteroids for mining. Arkyd-6 will test 17 new technologies, with one of its most important being a new mid-wave infrared imaging sensor (or MWIR) designed to detect water resources.

"If all of the experimental systems operate successfully, Planetary Resources intends to use the Arkyd-6 satellite to capture MWIR images of targets on Earth's surface," the company's chief engineer Chris Voorhees said in a statement.

Via: India Space Research Organization

Water is critical to the future of spaceflight, and especially to human colonizing other planets. Beyond being necessary for life, water is one of the most efficient propellants. The results of the Arkyd-6 mission will teach Planetary Resources what it needs to know before launching exploratory crafts to asteroids near the Earth – which CEO Chris Lewicki has said the company plans to do by 2020.

"This is the first post-global enterprise," Lewicki told CNBC last year.

The PSLV-C40 launch carried India's 100th satellite, a surveillance craft named Cartosat 2, and was the longest flight duration for the rocket vehicle at over 2 hours. This was the first PSLV mission since a failure in August resulted in the payload falling short of orbit.

Other secondary payloads on board included 19 satellites contracted and managed by Spaceflight Industries — notably the ICEYE-X1 satellite and several cubesats for both Planet and Spire. ICEYE's inaugural craft is the first commercial satellite for Finland, with next-generation technology known as synthetic aperture radar (or SAR) on board designed to provide almost real-time imagery regardless of atmospheric conditions.

"We use observation data to help our customers navigate through the world as it is, not as it was," CEO Rafal Modrzewski told CNBC in December.