Asteroid mining: SpaceX will help a startup launch operations in 2023

The space tech startup, AstroForge, hopes to complete two proof-of-concept missions this year using SpaceX rockets.
Christopher McFadden
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Will AstroForge be successful?

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In what might be a groundbreaking moment in space industry history, a new startup plans to launch not one but two space missions this year. This might not sound like a big deal, but the company wants to go into space to find and use minerals from asteroids and other deep-space objects.

With the potentially infinite worth of valuable materials in deep space, asteroid mining startup AstroForge hopes its endeavors will pay off. If successful, this could result in a very healthy return.

Asteroids are believed to contain various precious minerals, including metals such as iron, nickel, and cobalt, and rarer elements such as platinum and gold. They might also have water and other volatile substances that could be useful for future space exploration and settlement.

However, it should be noted that the exact composition of asteroids can vary widely, and more research is needed to determine the specific minerals that can be found on individual asteroids. But, with so much potential valuable stuff out there for the taking, any company brave enough to attempt recovery will be paid significant dividends for their labors.

Last year, AstroForge was reportedly preparing a demonstration mission this year when we covered the company's seed financing, according to TechCrunch. In addition to announcing a second trip planned later in the year that will send the business to a target asteroid for observation, AstroForge provided more information about that mission today.

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Astroforge will use SpaceX to get them to space

Also, according to TechCrunch, the first mission will launch in April using a rideshare launch from SpaceX using the Transporter-7. The 6U CubeSat, supplied by the space technology firm OrbAstro, will have "asteroid-like material" pre-loaded to show off AstroForge's refinement and extraction powers in zero gravity.

The second mission will send the company into the depths of space to gather information on an asteroid's surface that the company plans to mine later this decade.

"We have to find some way to get the regolith off the asteroid and process it in our refinery, and we believe we've solved that for our target asteroid," CEO Matt Gialich said in an interview with TechCrunch.

He stated that to help identify the most potential asteroids to exploit, the corporation collaborates with academic advisors, NASA, and the nonprofit Planetary Science Institute. Additionally, the business and the Colorado School of Mines recently published a paper assessing the metal content of asteroids that may be mined, marketed as commodities on Earth, or utilized in space.

The second trip will involve studying the target asteroid's surface using high-resolution photos, Gialich revealed. That publication stated that "textures of metal-rich asteroid surfaces remain to be examined." Besides the fact that the asteroid is closer to Earth than, for instance, a boulder in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, he declined to disclose anything more about it.

"The asteroid belts, far away, would take us like 14-year round trips," he said. "It's something that is much better suited for research and exploration. […] That's not a viable business case for us," he added.

With Houston-based Intuitive Machines, the company will instead travel to lunar orbit before continuing to deep space. Once more powered by OrbAstro, AstroForge's spacecraft will embark on a shorter 11-month trek to the intended asteroid.

The fourth mission, which would be the company's first refining mission to return platinum to Earth, and the third mission, which would land on the asteroid, is currently being planned by AstroForge.