Arkyd-6, a miniature space research satellite built by American company Planetary Resources, has successfully entered the Earth’s orbit two weeks after launch.

Launched on January 12 from Satish Dhawan Space Centre on board PSLV C40, a polar satellite launch vehicle operated by the Indian Space Research Organisation, the 6U CubeSat reached orbit and opened two-way communication with the team back on Earth, according to Brian Geddes, Planetary Resources’ director of software.

“We’ve confirmed that the autonomous systems have kicked in,” said Geddes. “Attitude control is functioning properly and allowing us to use the solar panels to charge the battery. Arkyd-6 is busy gathering and recording data including precise information about its orbit.”

Arkyd-6 is capable of recording images covering three to five microns within the infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum. This part of the spectrum is sensitive to the presence of water, and so is a key component of the company’s Space Resource Exploration Mission, a long-term project to mine resources of water in near-Earth asteroids.

The company calls the project “the world’s first commercial deep-space exploration programme”; it aims to identify and mine near-Earth asteroids with reserves of water. Future manned space flights to Mars and beyond will need water en-route for drinking. It is also an effective shield against cosmic radiation and forms an integral component of rocket fuel.

The success of Arkyd-6 affirms the effectiveness of the technology Planetary Resources plans to use in Arkyd-301, a much larger satellite that will play a more significant role in the Exploration Programme. The 301 is a larger vessel that will contain several smaller craft, which will be launched from the 301 to individual asteroids to detect water. The company plans to launch the 301 in 2020 ‘to collect data and test mineral samples’, according to its website.

Planetary Resources is also interested in the mining of metals, which can be brought back to Earth and used in the manufacture of phones and electronics. The company’s website explains that it aims to “establish a new paradigm for resource utilisation that will bring the Solar System within humanity’s economic sphere of influence”. To this end, Geddes is eager for Arkyd-6 to test its more advanced features, following the successful launch.

“We’ll send software updates, confirm the ability of the spacecraft to precisely point, and then capture our first mid-wave infrared image,” he said.