Deep Space Industries (DSI) has been acquired by Bradford Space, a U.S.-owned company with facilities in the Netherlands and Sweden — the announcement was made on January 1, 2019, and has been confirmed by a Bradford director, Mr. Ian Fichtenbaum — terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.
A group of entrepreneurs and space advocates founded DSI in 2012 with a goal of developing technologies for prospecting and eventually extracting space resources, such as water ice, from asteroids. It proposed carrying out those missions using small spacecraft the company planned to develop. More recently, DSI pivoted toward smallsats in general, including the production of a propulsion system called Comet that used water as propellant. The company promoted Comet on that smallsat's ability to provide performance approaching that of traditional monopropellant systems such as hydrazine, but with a non-toxic propellant that was less expensive and safer to handle.
Bradford Space has its own green propulsion systems for spacecraft, courtesy of the firm's 2017 acquisition of ECAPS, a Swedish company that developed high-performance, non-toxic, satellite propulsion systems. Fifteen spacecraft are using those ECAPS thrusters, including three launched on December 3, 2018, on a SpaceX Falcon 9. That launch also carried four satellites using Comet thrusters from DSI.
The acquisition of DSI comes a little more than two months after another startup with asteroid mining ambitions, Planetary Resources, was acquired by ConsenSys, a blockchain technology company. The founder of ConsenSys, Joseph Lubin, said in a statement at the time that Planetary Resources fit into its vision of “democratizing and decentralizing space endeavors” but has provided few details on how that would come to fruition.
DSI, which will be rebranded as Bradford Space Inc., or BSI, will continue to work on a satellite bus called Xplorer that is intended for use on missions beyond Earth orbit.
Director Fichtenbaum said that Bradford sees Comet as a complementary product to its existing ECAPS thrusters. The acquisition will give Bradford a presence in the United States to help sell ECAPS systems and other technologies, as well as a great engineering and production team and customer base. The Bradford infrastructure will also help sales of Comet in Europe and with the company's pre-existing ECAPS customers.
The DSI team provided very innovative solutions to the problem of exploring the solar system at a reasonable cost, and Bradford is eager to see if that can be developed with the help of Bradford technologies. Those technologies include components on ESA’s BepiColombo mission to Mercury launched in October and the JUICE mission to Jupiter under development.
For commercial asteroid mining, Bradford does not sneer at its prospects. The company believews it has a real future and want to see if DSI’s Comet and Xplorer as well as Bradford’s existing activities can play a part of that future — for now the firm is taking things step by step.