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Planetary Resources’ hardware is going, going, gone

Rich Reynolds, an employee of James G. Murphy Auctioneers, keeps an eye on the thermal vacuum chamber in the machine shop at Planetary Resources’ former HQ. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

REDMOND, Wash. — Wanna buy a used thermal vacuum chamber?

If you have a sudden yen to replicate outer-space conditions, it behooves you to check out today’s online-only auction of the hardware left over from Planetary Resources, the Redmond venture that aimed to create a trillion-dollar asteroid mining industry.

But don’t delay: By this evening, everything — from the 10-foot-tall vacuum chamber in the first-floor machine shop, to the dozens of laptops and chairs spread out in the second-floor workspace, to the satellite dish on top of the office building in Redmond — will have gone electronically to the highest bidders.

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ConsenSys sets Planetary Resources’ ideas free

Asteroids game
An Asteroids arcade game from Planetary Resources’ breakroom is among the items to be auctioned off next month. (James G. Murphy Co. Photo)

It’s been a year and a half since the assets of Planetary Resources, the asteroid mining venture headquartered in Redmond, Wash., were acquired by a blockchain venture called ConsenSys. Now we’re finding out what ConsenSys is doing with those assets.

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Pining for space mining after Planetary Resources

Planetary Resources asteroid mining
An artist’s conception shows Planetary Resources’ Arkyd 300 spacecraft prospecting amid a cluster of asteroids. (Planetary Resources Illustration

It’s been a year since the Redmond, Wash.-based asteroid mining venture known as Planetary Resources was acquired by ConsenSys and pivoted to blockchain projects in space — but the idea of mining space resources still resonates among those who backed the venture.

One big resonance relates to the effort that rose from Planetary Resources’ remains: Last month, ConsenSys Space unveiled its first project, a crowdsourced satellite-tracking campaign called TruSat.

In a notice posted online, Planetary Resources’ president and CEO, Chris Lewicki, said his former company “facilitated a huge forward step in progress in technology, business and mindset — and we’re seeing similar steps forward across the entire space industry.”

Now Lewicki is working on TruSat and other blockchain-based collaboration platforms for space applications. “I believe that decentralizing, democratizing and diversifying space endeavors can be a pivotal next forward step,” he wrote.

Lewicki expanded upon the connection between Planetary Resources and ConsenSys Space last week, during a tutorial for TruSat’s first group of “test pilots.”

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ConsenSys Space starts satellite-tracking campaign

TruSat satellite tracker
ConsenSys Space says TruSat will let amateur observers contribute to satellite tracking via an app. (TruSat / ConsenSys Space Illustration)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A year after taking over the assets of a Redmond, Wash.-based asteroid mining company known as Planetary ResourcesConsenSys Space has unveiled its first project: an app-based system that makes use of amateur observers and Ethereum blockchain technology to keep track of satellites.

The open-source TruSat app was released tonight in conjunction with the International Astronautical Congress here in Washington, and is aimed at addressing what’s expected to be a satellite traffic jam in low Earth orbit.

TruSat is an initiative led by ConsenSys Space in partnership with the Secure World Foundation, the Society of Women in Space Exploration and Moriba Jah, a space scientist and aerospace engineer at the University of Texas at Austin.

It’s aimed at analyzing the naked-eye satellite observations that are made by volunteers and submitted via the app, to come up with more accurate information about the orbits of thousands of satellites. Blockchain technology, which is best known as a software-based foundation for cryptocurrencies, would be used in this case to provide transparency about the source of orbital data.

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First Mode looks ahead to moon missions

First Mode's Chris Voorhees
First Mode’s president and chief engineer, Chris Voorhees, shows off the employee-owned company’s digs near Seattle’s Pike Place Market. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

One year after engineers from the Planetary Resources asteroid mining company peeled off to form their own employee-owned startup, known as First Mode, they can point to the profitable work they’ve done on space missions that are heading for Mars and, yes, an asteroid.

But now they’re widening their focus to take in projects that are closer to home — including mining operations back here on Earth, and NASA’s Artemis effort to send astronauts to the moon’s surface by 2024.

“We’re growing our own infrastructure here,” Chris Voorhees, the company’s president and chief engineer, told GeekWire during a tour of First Mode’s office space in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood, not far from Pike Place Market.

So far, First Mode has made a name for itself as a design and engineering consultancy, but now it’s putting the infrastructure in place to build hardware as well. Its in-house clean room bears testament to that ambition.

“We really like the idea of flight hardware getting delivered out of Pike Place Market,” Voorhees said. “We think that’s pretty cool.”

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Veteran asteroid miners launch First Mode

First Mode lab
A wide-angle view provides an unusual perspective of First Mode’s new lab space. (First Mode Photo)

Planetary Resources was assimilated into the ConsenSys blockchain venture months ago, but a troop of engineers who used to work for the asteroid mining company is seeking out new frontiers with a new company called First Mode.

And this time, asteroids aren’t the final frontier.

“First Mode is working with industries on and off the planet to do design and creative engineering work, but also to build hardware and build solutions that get deployed around the solar system as well as a lot of harsh and challenging environments here on planet Earth,” Rhae Adams, vice president of strategy and business development, told GeekWire.

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Why did blockchain company buy asteroid venture?

Chris Lewicki
Planetary Resources President and CEO Chris Lewicki talks about the company’s satellite ambitions at the 2014 GeekWire Summit. (GeekWire Photo)

After months of financial uncertainty, the Planetary Resources asteroid-mining venture says its assets have been purchased by the Brooklyn-based ConsenSys blockchain venture.

In a news release, Planetary Resources said its CEO and president, Chris Lewicki, and general counsel Brian Israel have joined ConsenSys in connection with the acquisition. ConsenSys will operate its space initiatives out of Planetary Resources’ former facility in Redmond, Wash.

Further details about the transaction are confidential, Planetary Resources spokeswoman Stacey Tearne told GeekWire in an email.

ConsenSys is a production studio that creates enterprises in a wide range of business areas based on the Ethereum platform for cryptocurrency and other blockchain applications. It has spawned 50 ventures, or “spokes,” including an online poker site, a legal services site and a “transmedia universe integrated with blockchain technology” called Cellarius.

The company’s founder is Joe Lubin, who co-founded Ethereum. Today, Lubin paid tribute to Planetary Resources for its “world-class talent, its record of innovation, and for inspiring people across our planet in support of its bold vision for the future.”

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Planetary Resources auction put on hold

This month’s scheduled sale of hundreds of items from Planetary Resources’ headquarters in Redmond, Wash., has been postponed, according to a website notice by the auctioneer, James G. Murphy & Co. The financially strapped asteroid mining company had planned to sell off laptops, machine tools and other pieces of equipment that were deemed unnecessary due to downsizing. Planetary Resources’ president and CEO, Chris Lewicki, told GeekWire earlier this month that he and his team “continue to work on our updated plans and hope to be able to share some more detailed updates soon.”

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Planetary Resources will be selling off equipment

Planetary Resources logo
Planetary Resources is selling off equipment from its headquarters in Redmond, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

In a fresh sign of the financial straits facing Planetary Resources, the asteroid mining company will be auctioning off hundreds of items from its headquarters in Redmond, Wash., ranging from industrial-strength CNC machine tools and 3-D printers to laptops and folding chairs.

The online auction will be conducted by James G. Murphy & Co. from Aug. 21 to 28, with a preview scheduled on Aug. 27 at Planetary Resources’ machine shop, lab and offices at 6742 185th Ave. NE in Redmond.

“We are preparing to sell some equipment that we’ve identified as not currently needed and easily replaceable,” Chris Lewicki, Planetary Resources’ president, CEO and chief asteroid miner, told GeekWire in an email. “This is a result of reducing overhead as we go forward with our smaller team.”

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Why space engineers move to (and leave) Seattle

New Shepard capsule
Engineers work on New Shepard’s crew capsule at Blue Origin’s Kent factory. (Credit: Blue Origin)

A new employment study indicates that roughly 3,000 people are directly employed by Washington state’s space industry, and roughly half of them are at Blue Origin, Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ space venture.

Most of Blue Origin’s 1,500 employees work at the company’s headquarters and production facility in Kent, Wash. So Erika Wagner, Blue Origin’s payload sales director, has a good grasp on what draw space-savvy engineers to the Seattle area.

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