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Satellite Communications Technology

Mission success: Arkyd-6 tests key technologies for commercial space resource exploration

(24 April 2018 - Planetary Resources) On January 12, 2018, Planetary Resources launched the Arkyd-6, a 6U CubeSat, a demonstration platform for technology intended to detect water resources in space. Within hours of its launch on the Indian PSLV C40 the spacecraft reached its polar Earth orbit and the team began to regularly receive healthy telemetry from the spacecraft.

The spacecraft was designed, manufactured, tested and integrated almost entirely in house. Planetary Resources' Redmond facilities provided the team the opportunity to prototype and develop the hardware all under one roof.

In the weeks following launch, the team worked tirelessly in Redmond managing the mission. Even though the spacecraft was fully autonomous and able to execute all functions independently, it communicated with the operational team at every critical check point.

Planetary Resources has stated that the Arkyd-6 has satisfied all of its mission requirements. The spacecraft successfully demonstrated its distributed computing system, communications, attitude control system, power generation and storage with deployable solar arrays and batteries, star tracker & reaction wheels, and the first commercial mid-wave infrared (MWIR) imager operated in space.

The onboard MWIR instrument is a broadband imager spanning 3 to 5 microns within the infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum. This region is sensitive to the presence of water – including that in hydrated minerals – and thermal energy, allowing it to see things not visible to any other private satellite in space. During the mission, the imager was used as a tool to search for the presence of water and other economic signatures on Earth, but the focus is to find the presence of water beyond Earth.

An example of the MWIR imager’s capability is this image (below) taken by the Arkyd-6 of a refinery in Algeria. The imager was able to capture hot spots or thermal signatures of the refinery flame towers, where all other commercial images of this same area would be of a non-descript desert landscape.

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Arkyd-6 orbital MWIR image of a refinery in Algeria (courtesy: Planetary Resources)

The Arkyd-6 is a part of Planetary Resources’ research and development work to create an instrument capable of detecting water on near-Earth asteroids. The data obtained from this mission, along with the experience gained from building and operating the Arkyd-6 will assist in the development of the Arkyd-301, our next spacecraft platform.