Planetary Resources, whose primary goal involves the mining of asteroids for precious metals, is proving resourceful at securing backers for a broadening business model.
Founded in 2009, the Redmond, Wash.-based company notched a big step in its core quest in November when President Obama signed the latest Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, whose many provisions included the first-time legalization of commercial asteroid-mining missions by private companies such as Planetary Resources.
That followed a similarly watershed event last summer when its test mining craft, built by aerospace contractor Orbital ATK, was deployed by crew of the International space station in a bid to validate the craft’s avionics and other technologies.
Meantime, Planetary Resources also has begun marketing an advanced Earth observation system, based on technology developed for its mining missions, to deliver weather and other ecosystem imagery customized for paying customers. The company recently inked an agreement with multinational chemical and pharmaceutical giant Bayer to develop “applications and products based on satellite images.”
Bayer said it intends to use the data to create new agricultural products and tweak current ones.
“Using the combined technologies from the two companies, farmers can time their irrigation systems much better to save water, receive planting date recommendations and re-planting advice, and assess their soil’s water-holding capacity,” the companies said in announcing the pact May 31.
Another project involves a “canopy temperature scout” that will provide weekly information on crop fields by monitoring for problems from planting to harvest.
“The sensors from Planetary Resources can become a powerful tool that can provide a new level of information on crops anywhere in the world,” said Liam Condon, head of Bayer’s Crop Science Division. “The combination of Bayer’s scientific and agronomy expertise and Planetary Resources’ unique sensor capability will greatly improve our ability to deliver truly practical intelligence to growers anywhere on the planet.”
Planetary Resources chief Chris Lewicki said: “We are currently conducting airborne research and development campaigns over a variety of agricultural targets. Bayer is interested in supporting these activities with scientific and agronomic expertise in order to accelerate R&D, product validation and creation.”
Planetary Resources also recently trumpeted $21.1 million in first-round venture funding to cover continued development work of its Earth observation business. The OS Fund-led funding was announced May 26.
The company’s earlier funding has included a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign and angel investments from high-profile entrepreneurs such as Google’s Larry Gage of Google and Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson.