Tag Archives: Planetary Resources

Luxembourg accepts full loss from Planetary Resources investment

Capitalism in space: Luxembourg this week admitted that its 12 million euro investment in Planetary Resources is a complete loss.

They had sold off their ten percent investment when a blockchain company purchased Planetary Resources on November 1. This article merely confirms the full loss from the companies sale.

When Planetary Resources was first revealed, the mainstream press went nuts touting its claims that it was an asteroid mining company, mostly because of the supposed involvement of several rich Google investors. I however had reservations, mainly because the company was selling itself as an asteroid mining company when there was no chance it was going to do any mining, for at least a decade.

Simply put, I do not like it when companies or governments make false and unrealistic claims. It raises a red flag in the back of my mind, which in turn makes me suspect that the company or government is almost certainly not going to achieve what it claims. Over the past decades I have learned to take that red flag seriously, and this is another case where it served me well.

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Planetary Resources bought by blockchain company

Capitalism in space: The so-called asteroid mining company Planetary Resources has now been bought by computer blockchain company.

Planetary Resources said in a statement that it was acquired by ConsenSys, Inc. in an “asset-purchase transaction.” The companies did not disclose specific terms of the agreement. Chris Lewicki, the president and chief executive of Planetary Resources, and Brian Israel, the company’s general counsel, will join ConsenSys as part of the deal.

ConsenSys describes itself as a “blockchain venture production studio focused on building and scaling tools, disruptive startups, and enterprise software products powered by decentralized technology, specifically Ethereum.” Ethereum itself is a decentralized computing platform best known for supporting a cryptocurrency called Ether similar to the better-known bitcoin.

Don’t ask me how ConsenSys makes its money. I haven’t the faintest. I also haven’t the slightest idea what they intend to do with Planetary Resources. I can say without doubt that it won’t be asteroid mining.

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Short of money, Planetary Resources to auction off equipment

Capitalism in space: Because its last fund-raising effort failed to hit its target, Planetary Resources is now auctioning off equipment from its headquarters.

The online auction will be conducted by James G. Murphy & Co. from Aug. 21 to 28, with a preview scheduled on Aug. 27 at Planetary Resources’ machine shop, lab and offices at 6742 185th Ave. NE in Redmond.

“We are preparing to sell some equipment that we’ve identified as not currently needed and easily replaceable,” Chris Lewicki, Planetary Resources’ president, CEO and chief asteroid miner, told GeekWire in an email. “This is a result of reducing overhead as we go forward with our smaller team.”

This could simply be an effort to maximize their financial resources as they reorganize. Nonetheless, it does not look good.

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The slow death of Planetary Resources

Link here. The article tries to put a positive spin on the company’s decline, but the facts described tell a different story, with its failure to raise investment capital essentially forcing it to shut down, with its best people leaving for greener pastures.

[The fund-raising failure] forced a sharp reduction in Planetary Resources’ workforce. How sharp? Lewicki declined to say, but LinkedIn’s listings show that a number of employees have moved on to Blue Origin, Amazon and other companies.

Several former members of the team have started up a new engineering services company called Synchronous. Maggie Scholtz, a Planetary Resources veteran who is now Synchronous’ president of aerospace and space, will be one of the speakers at the NewSpace conference. The event gets under way on Tuesday at the Hyatt Regency Lake Washington in Renton, Wash. Other Synchronous partners include Chris Voorhees, who was Planetary Resources’ chief engineer until February; Peter Illsley, Planetary Resources’ former director of mechanical and thermal engineering; Brian Geddes, former director of software; and Rhae Adams, former director of mining and energy.

Planetary Resources had to let a robotic worker go as well. Arkyd-6A, the experimental Earth-observing satellite that was launched for the company in January, is now idle in low Earth orbit.

When this company made its splashy appearance in 2012, claiming it planned to do asteroid mining, I said hogwash. They weren’t an asteroid mining company, at best they were a cubesat-sized orbiting telescope company, testing technologies for looking at asteroids.

In the end, they weren’t even that. Arkyd-6A has taken one picture of the Earth, and is not competitive with numerous other Earth-observation companies that have already launched many superior and commercially profitable satellites.

I am not optimistic for the future of this company. The lesson it provides however is important. Companies that oversell themselves should be viewed with great skepticism.

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Funding shortfall causes Planetary Resources to cut back

Because of their failure to close a round of investment fund-raising, Planetary Resources has been forced to cut back, including some layoffs and delaying several proposed later missions.

The delayed investment, though, forced Planetary Resources to lay off some of its employees. Lewicki declined to say how many were let go from a peak of 70 employees prior to the layoffs.

That setback also affects the schedule for future asteroid prospecting missions. In his conference talk, Lewicki showed a video of a planned mission where several small spacecraft, launched as secondary payloads, fly to near Earth asteroids to measure their water content. In past presentations featuring that video, company officials said the mission was scheduled for launch in 2020.

However, Lewicki didn’t state in this talk when that mission would launch, and acknowledged later the funding problems would delay it until some time after 2020. “The 2020 date was assuming we would get all the necessary financing on schedule last year,” he said.

To me, this article illustrates why Planetary Resources failed to obtain its investment funds. They pitch themselves as an asteroid mining company, but very little of what they are doing has anything to do with actual mining, or obtaining profits from that mining. At the moment, they remain an Earth observation company with capabilities not as good as a host of other similar companies expressly dedicated to this task.

I say this not because I am against asteroid mining, or think it cannot make a profit. I just think Planetary Resources has oversold itself, which can be deadly in the harsh competitive market.

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Planetary Resources misses fund-raising target

Capialism in space: Planetary Resources has failed to meet a recent fund-raising target.

A spokeswoman for Planetary Resources, Stacey Tearne, told GeekWire that financial challenges have forced the company to focus on leveraging the Arkyd-6 mission for near-term revenue — apparently by selling imagery and data. “Planetary Resources missed a fundraising milestone,” Tearne explained in an email. “The company remains committed to utilizing the resources from space to further explore space, but is focusing on near-term revenue streams by maximizing the opportunity of having a spacecraft in orbit.”

Tearne said no further information was available, and did not address questions about employment cutbacks. However, reports from other sources in the space community suggest there have been notable job reductions. For what it’s worth, Planetary Resources had more than 70 employees at last report.

When this company first appeared with a big splash, shouting its plans to mine asteroids, I said “Bunk, it’s going to be a smallsat telescope company for years to come, either looking at the Earth or into space.” And that is where we are. The “near-term revenue streams” hinted at above are certainly the kind of earth-observation imaging that numerous other smallsat companies are providing. Whether Planetary Resources can compete with the large number of already established smallsat earth-observation companies, however, is the big question.

Mining asteroids by commercial companies for profit makes sense, and will eventually happen. I think, however, that this company oversold its abilities when it tried to convince everything that this is what it planned to do, right away.

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Luxembourg invests $28 million into asteroid mining company

The competition heats up: In its continuing effort to make money from space, the government of Luxembourg has invested $28 million in the asteroid mining company Planetary Resources.

As part of the deal, Planetary Resources is establishing a European headquarters in Luxembourg that will conduct research and development activities. Georges Schmit, a member of the Space Resources advisory board to the Government of Luxembourg, wil join Planetary’s board. “We plan to launch the first commercial asteroid prospecting mission by 2020 and look forward to collaborating with our European partner in this pivotal new industry,” said Chris Lewicki, Planetary Resources chief executive.

As with Luxembourg’s other deals, the investment has required the company to shift many of its operations from the U.S. to Luxembourg.

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Luxembourg purchases 49% stake in Planetary Resources

The competition heats up: Following through in its commitment to invest funds in futures space industries, the government of Luxembourg has signed an agreement with Planetary Resources in which it takes 49% equity share of the company.

It is clear that Luxembourg’s goal is to make itself the center of the world for all future space-based industries, and this quote illustrates this:

The Luxembourg government investment adds a powerful incentive to relocate some of this development to Luxembourg before Ceres satellite production is too solidly anchored on the U.S. West Coast. In May, health-care and agricultural research giant Bayer of Monheim, Germany, and Planetary Resources announced they had signed a memorandum of understanding under which Bayer “intends to purchase data from Planetary Resources to create new agricultural products and improve existing ones. The collaboration will be part of the Digital Farming Initiative at Bayer.” Schneider has said the spaceresources.lu program would distinguish itself from U.S.-based efforts by being more international. Companies setting up shop in Luxembourg need not prove Luxembourg-based majority ownership to receive the full suite of regulatory advantages.

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Planetary Resources has raised $21 million

The competition heats up: Planetary Resources, the company that claims its goal is to mine asteroids, has raised $21 million to build and launch an Earth resources satellite.

They plan to create a 10-satellite constellation to provide this data commercially.

While everything this company is doing will eventually make asteroid mining easier and more effective, nothing they are doing now has anything to do with mining asteroids. Their first project was to build a prototype orbiting telescope to look for asteroids. This second project will sell data about the Earth.

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The Kickstarter campaign by the private company Planetary Resources has made its $1.5 million goal.

The competition heats up: The Kickstarter campaign by the private company Planetary Resources has made its $1.5 million goal.

That campaign reached its $1 million goal on June 19, opening the way for one of Planetary Resources’ Arkyd-100 space telescopes to be used for educational and personal imaging projects. The biggest crowd-pleaser was a $25 offer that will let backers take “space selfies” — orbital pictures showing a display on the telescope with an image submitted by a backer in the foreground, and Earth in the background.

The Asteroid Zoo plan was [the $1.5 million] stretch goal for the campaign. Planetary Resources will partner with Zooniverse to create a game-like online program to identify asteroids, modeled on other Zooniverse citizen-science efforts such as Galaxy Zoo, Moon Zoo and Planet Hunters. Users would be recruited to join in, and then trained to spot the telltale signs of an asteroid’s movement — for example, by “blinking” multiple images of the same patch of sky, or using more sophisticated techniques. The search would draw upon more than 3 million images from the Catalina Sky Survey.

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Planetary Resources today announced a Kickstarter fund-raising campaign for its space telescope Arkyd.

Planetary Resources today announced a Kickstarter fund-raising campaign for its space telescope Arkyd.

Forgive me if I am less than enthusiastic about this. Supposedly Planetary Resources had big money backing from a lot of wealthy people, including some Silicon Valley Google billionaires. Why then do they need this campaign? It makes me suspect that the company is an emperor with no clothes.

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Planetary Resources has released a video showing off the prototype of their Arkyd-100 space telescope.

The competition heats up: Planetary Resources has released a video showing off the prototype of their Arkyd-100 space telescope.

As I noted when this company first appeared, for the foreseeable future they are going to be a manufacturer of space telescopes, not an asteroid mining company. At the same time, they, like Deep Space Industries, are going to drive satellite development towards lower cost and smarter design, which in the long run will make asteroid mining practical and profitable.

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To mine the asteroids, first build small cheap space telescopes.

To mine the asteroids, first build small cheap space telescopes.

The space telescope will be based on the same design Planetary Resources will eventually use for its asteroid-prospecting spacecraft: a 30-kilogram to 50-kilogram flier packed with imaging sensors and a laser-optical communication system the company is developing to avoid encumbering its spacecraft with large antennas. The company, which says it has about two dozen employees, will market these spacecraft as cheap but effective telescopes for both astronomical and Earth-observing applications. Sales would provide cash for the company’s core work on asteroid mining, Eric Anderson, co-founder and co-chairman of Planetary Resources, said.

The telescope slated for launch sometime in the next two years “would be something, let’s say, a university buys [for astronomical observations], or a commercial company that wants to monitor shipping traffic or something like that,” Anderson said in a phone interview. The cost for the telescope, which Planetary Resources is calling Arkyd-101, would be “millions of dollars, including launch.”

At the Planetary Resources press conference today, there was a lot of talk about the benefits and profits to be gained from mining the asteroids. However, this ain’t gonna happen for quite a few years. In the meantime, the company plans to make money building space telescopes which scientists and others can use, for a fee, to do research.

In other words, the government and astronomers dropped the ball on replacing the Hubble Space Telescope. Now, private enterprise is going to pick it up and run with it.

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No announcement yet, but of the many stories available this Wired article and this Yahoo article appear to provide the best overview of the asteroid mining plans of Planetary Resources.

No announcement yet, but of the many stories available this Wired article appears to provide the best overview of the asteroid mining plans of Planetary Resources.

The company’s first phase is most interesting:

Within the next 18 to 24 months, Planetary Resources hopes to launch between two and five space-based telescopes at an estimated cost of a few million dollars each that will identify potentially valuable asteroids. Other than their size and orbit, little detailed information is available about the current catalog of near-Earth asteroids. Planetary Resources’ Arkyd-101 Space Telescopes will figure out whether any are worth the trouble of resource extraction.

The actual press conference is scheduled for 10:30 am (Pacific). Stay tuned.

Update: The Planetary Resources website has now been updated. You can read more about their space telescope proposal here.

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