How commercial space companies are on the hunt to find 'the eighth continent'

How commercial space companies are on the hunt to find 'the eighth continent'
How commercial space companies are on the hunt to find 'the eighth continent'

Begun six years ago, Planetary Resources calls Redmond, Washington, its home. With around 60 scientists, engineers, businessmen and economists, Planetary Resources works outside of NASA's shadow but has access to a nearby Boeing aerospace base and has broken ground on a European headquarters in Luxembourg.

The company's first satellite was "lost in spectacular fashion" in a launch explosion in 2014, according to Lewicki. Yet a successful July 2015 launch put the Planetary Resources back on track.

Two of its next experimental satellites, called Arkyd 6, will launch this year, with the first planned in coming months. The Arkyd 200 mission will explore an asteroid, specifically to locate water and measure its abundance.

"The fall of 2020 is our aim date for the first commercial mission, by the name Arkyd 200," Lewicki said. "We're in the detailed mission planning stages right now."

"If we have a successful result in 2020, the next mission will follow anywhere between two and four years later to extract a lot more water," Lewicki said.

Meanwhile, billionaire entrepreneur Naveen Jain is trying to engineer a soft lunar landing for his company, Moon Express, sometime this year.

Moon Express has won more than $500,000 under NASA's Innovative Lunar Demonstration Data Program, and $1.25 million as a part of Google's Lunar XPRIZE competition. The latter will award $30 million to the first company that lands a commercial spacecraft on the moon, travels 500 meters across its surface and sends high-definition images and video back to Earth.

The Florida based company recently licensed Cape Canaveral launch complexes from the Air Force. Jain believes that the plethora of options for rocket providers means that Moon Express can launch easily — from its existing five rocket contract with Rocket Lab to any other corporation in the mix, be it Virgin Galactic, Amazon's Blue Origin, SpaceX or Boeing.

Within 12 to 24 months of the first mission, Moon Express aims to send a second module to begin extracting resources.

"Once we land on the moon, what we're really doing is building an underlying infrastructure," Jain said. "Bringing back moon materials sounds much more complicated than it really is, for gravity is your friend."


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