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An asteroid mining startup will soon launch on a SpaceX rideshare mission

The startup plans on achieving its goal by the end of the decade.

An asteroid mining startup will soon launch on a SpaceX rideshare mission
An artist's impression of 16 Psyche. 24K-Production/iStock

An asteroid mining firm, Astroforge, just had its ambitions to mine the first asteroid by the end of the decade, boosted by a new round of funding.

The Y Combinator startup closed a $13 million seed round, according to TechCrunch, and the money will help it carry out its first two key goals, including a demonstration flight launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rideshare mission next year.

Space mining startup has rideshare contract with SpaceX

Astroforge's co-founders, Gialich and Jose Acain, claim they have developed a novel method for refining materials in space, though they have yet to reveal much in the way of concrete details. All we know so far is that their technology requires a high-rated vacuum and it only works in zero gravity. The company will be targeting smaller asteroids — between 20 meters and 1.5 km in diameter — that likely won't have a gravitational field, meaning they won't be landing on any space rocks.

The California-based startup has already penned a partnership with OrbAstro to develop the first satellite for its demo mission. It also has an agreement in place with SpaceX for a spot on an upcoming rideshare mission, expected to launch at some point next year. That mission aims to demonstrate in-space mineral refining is possible using the company's technology.

The seed round was led by Initialized Capital, which focused on the vast potential earnings of space mining operations in the future — one asteroid, targeted by NASA's Psyche mission, has been estimated to contain $700 quintillion dollars worth of rare metals.

Will Astroforge succeed where others have failed?

Astroforge will target asteroids with high concentrations of the six platinum group metals, including platinum and iridium. It aims to send small payloads to space, weighing less than 200 kilograms, to allow it to launch aboard more affordable rideshare missions. 

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The company currently has four full-time employees and it's looking to hire seven more. Its two founders, Acain and Gialich, are veterans of the space industry with experience working for SpaceX, NASA, and Virgin Orbit. Still, cracking space mining is a tall order and other big names have tried and failed to get their space mining ventures off the ground — namely, the Larry Page-backed Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries.

Though space mining is a high-risk investment that will take a long time to pay off, the market is predicted to grow to $4.2 billion by the end of the decade. Astroforge and other firms will have their eyes firmly set on the results of NASA's Psyche mission, which aims to determine the true composition of the 16 Psyche asteroid by around 2026. Those results could pave the way for more firms to join the race to become the first successful space miners.

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