ConsenSys blockchain studio acquires Planetary Resources asteroid venture

Planetary Resources' 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.

Consensus is a production studio that creates enterprises in a wide range of business areas based on the Etherium 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 Etherium. 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.”

“Bringing deep-space capabilities into the ConsenSys ecosystem reflects our belief in the potential for Ethereum to help humanity craft new societal rule systems through automated trust and guaranteed execution,” Lubin said in a statement. “And it reflects our belief in democratizing and decentralizing space endeavors to unite our species and unlock untapped human potential. We look forward to sharing our plans and how to join us on this journey in the months ahead.”

In prepared comments, Lewicki looked back at Planetary Resources and looked ahead to ConsenSys.

“Over the course of nearly a decade, Planetary Resources has simultaneously pioneered technology, business, law and policy, and brought the promise of space resources irreversibly closer to humankind’s grasp,” he said. “I am proud of our team’s extraordinary accomplishments, grateful to our visionary supporters, and delighted to join ConsenSys in building atop our work to expand humanity’s economic sphere of influence into the solar system.”

Israel, meanwhile, hinted at ConsenSys’ plans for future space ventures.

“Ethereum smart contract functionality is a natural solution for private-ordering and commerce in space — the only domain of human activity not ordered around territorial sovereignty — in which a diverse range of actors from a growing number of countries must coordinate and transact,” he said.

A similar strategy is being pursued by Asgardia, a venture that has sparked legal debate by styling itself as the first space-based nation. Asgardia has said it intends to establish its own blockchain-based cryptocurrency known as the Solar.

Planetary Resources was founded in its present form in 2012, with initial backing from billionaires including Larry Page, Eric Schmidt, Ross Perot Jr. and Charles Simonyi. Its original mission was to identify and mine near-Earth asteroids for valuable resources, ranging from water that could be converted into rocket fuel to platinum-group metals that could conceivably be sent back to Earth.

Over the course of six years, the venture raised tens of millions of dollars and explored other potential revenue streams, including space telescope manufacturing, space selfies and an Earth-observation constellation called Ceres.

The company sent two small experimental satellites into orbit, known as Arkyd-3R and Arkyd-6A, to lay the groundwork for asteroid-scouting efforts. Its plans called for starting the prospecting effort in earnest in the early 2020s, fueled by fresh funding. But an anticipated funding round failed to come together, leading to a wave of staff cutbacks.

At one point, Planetary Resources planned to auction off the equipment at its Redmond headquarters (but not including a spare satellite it was holding in storage). That sale was put on hold in August and has now apparently been called off.