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DSI Comet thrusters on satellite
An artist’s conception shows a nanosatellite equipped with Deep Space Industries’ non-toxic, water-based Comet thruster system. (DSI / BSI Illustration)

Bradford Space Group says it’s acquired California-based Deep Space Industries, which means that both of the ventures that were created to mine asteroids have now been bought up to focus on different priorities.

The other asteroid-mining venture, Redmond, Wash.-based Planetary Resources, was purchased in October by Brooklyn-based ConsenSys with the aim of creating space applications for blockchain security technology.

Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries entered the public eye in 2012 and 2013 to highlight the prospects for asteroid prospecting. Backed by billionaires, Planetary Resources’ executives said at the time that mining space rocks for water and other resources could eventually turn into a trillion-dollar business.

But as the focus of NASA’s space exploration program shifted from near-Earth asteroids to the moon, the business model for asteroid mining lost its luster. Planetary Resources temporarily turned its attention to Earth observation satellites, then failed to raise a fresh round of funding for spacecraft development. Such setbacks set the stage for the ConsenSys acquisition and the shift to blockchain.

Deep Space Industries, meanwhile, concentrated on the development of its Comet water-based electrothermal propulsion system. Comet thrusters are currently being used on four small satellites that were put into orbit last month for the HawkEye 360 signal-monitoring constellation and the Capella Space radar imaging constellation.

Seattle-based LeoStella, a joint venture between Spaceflight Industries and Thales Alenia Space, also plans to use Comet thrusters on the satellites it’s building for the BlackSky Earth-imaging constellation.

Bradford Space Group, which is U.S.-owned but has facilities in the Netherlands and Sweden, said it will offer DSI’s Comet alongside its own line of ECAPS non-toxic “green” propulsion systems. Three satellites using ECAPS were launched on the same Spaceflight SSO-A SmallSat Express mission that put the Comet-powered satellites in orbit.

“We appreciate the strong support shown by DSI’s customers for the Comet product,” Bradford director Ian Fichtenbaum said today in a news release. “Their ongoing interest gave us the confidence in continuing to develop the product line.”

Bradford said it also assumed ownership of DSI’s Xplorer spacecraft bus design, a project aimed at providing a lower-cost basis for deep-space missions — potentially including asteroid-mining missions..

“The DSI team provided very innovative solutions to the problem of exploring the solar system at a reasonable cost, and we are eager to see if that can be developed with the help of Bradford technologies,” Fichtenbaum said. “We believe in developing and exploring the riches of the solar system and we want to be among the ones to make it happen.”

DSI will continue to operate in San Jose, Calif., as Bradford Space Inc. Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

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