There are many valuable resources in the hundreds of millions of rocks floating around our corner of the galaxy. Asteroids, in particular, contain cobalt and a lot of platinum, which is rare on Earth and yet is used in a wide range of goods, including catalytic converters, electronics, and medical devices. At least in principle, “you can do anything you want with the metals off of an asteroid: build structures, solar collectors, habitats, machines, starship Enterprises, you name it,” Lewicki says. “The universe is your factory.” Asteroids also contain an abundance of water, which, aside from serving as hydration during space travel, could be used as a shield to protect spaceships from the sun’s radiation or to produce hydrogen- and oxygen-based rocket fuels…
…Lewicki’s team has been working on developing a fleet of low-cost spacecraft named Arkyd equipped with advanced spectral sensors and new technologies for onboard computing. Planetary Resources—which last year deployed a demonstration vehicle into low-Earth orbit to test core avionics, navigation, and computing systems—is soon to deploy another vehicle to test remote sensing capacities. A first prospective mission is planned to take place in a couple of years. The company has also been working on getting its transformative technologies into more immediate markets on Earth through the deployment of Ceres, an orbiting infrared and hyperspectral sensor system that aims to provide information to the oil, gas, and agriculture industries to better manage the natural resources on this planet.
Planetary Resources’s staff of 60 includes 50 engineers recruited from companies such as NASA, Intel, Google, and SpaceX; a few astrophysicists; and even economists. Lewicki looks for people who can demonstrate that they have “practiced [their] education” in experiences such as capstone projects in engineering or scientific research. Whatever their background, “we look for tinkerers, people who are insatiably curious and who aren’t afraid to make a mistake, and people who are passionate about this journey,” Lewicki says. He is interested in people who are able to learn new skills, adapt quickly, and work across different fields. “Expose yourself to as many different subjects and challenges as you can,” he advises. He also looks for candidates who are good matches for the team, so it is important to understand the culture of the organization and demonstrate aptitude for team-based problem-solving, he adds.
Lewicki’s responsibilities don’t stop at leading the team working out the technical aspects of mining asteroids. As CEO, he is in charge of devising and implementing a strategy for his company to fulfil its vision, and he oversees its day-to-day operations. Fundraising and striking partnerships with NASA, governments, or other mining and software companies are another big part of his job, with Lewicki sometimes getting involved in science communication and policy. “I work with our own government in the U.S. and other countries around the world to develop a policy framework which starts to anticipate the development of this industry,” Lewicki says. During the debates around a new U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act aiming to foster the commercial exploration and utilization of resources from asteroids, for example, Lewicki met with members of Congress to encourage them to pass the act, which became law in November 2015.
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