Asteroid mining startup AstroForge will test its metal-refining technology in space this year
Asteroid mining start-up AstroForge will head into space twice this year, as it attempts to do what no other company has been able to do before: unlock the potentially limitless value of precious minerals in space. deep space.
When TechCrunch covered AstroForge’s seed cycle last April, we noted that the company was planning a demo mission later this year. Today, AstroForge released more details about that mission, and announced an additional mission later this year that will take the company to a target asteroid for observation.
The first mission will launch in April aboard SpaceX’s Transporter-7 rideshare launch. The 6U CubeSat, which is provided by space technology company OrbAstro, will be pre-loaded with “asteroid-like material” to demonstrate AstroForge’s refining and mining capabilities in a weightless environment. The second mission will see the company head into deep space, to collect data from the surface of an asteroid that the company hopes to exploit later in the decade.
“We need to find a way to extract the regolith from the asteroid and process it in our refinery, and we believe we’ve solved that problem for our target asteroid,” CEO Matt Gialich said in an interview with TechCrunch.
He said the company was working with advisers from universities, NASA and the nonprofit Planetary Science Institute to help identify the most promising asteroids to mine. The company also recently published a paper with the Colorado School of Mines evaluating the metal content of asteroids that could be mined and sold as commodities on Earth or used in space.
This document noted that “the surface textures of metal-rich asteroids remain to be studied”, and Gialich confirmed that the second mission will be to study the surface of the target asteroid using high-resolution images. He declined to provide much more information about the asteroid, other than that it’s closer to home than, say, a rock in the asteroid belt that sits between Mars and Jupiter.
“The asteroid belts, they’re far away, they’d take us like 14-year round trips,” he said. “It’s something much better suited for research and exploration. […] That’s not a viable business case for us.
Instead, the company will fly to lunar orbit with Houston-based Intuitive Machines before moving on to deep space. AstroForge’s spacecraft, again provided by OrbAstro, will make a much shorter 11-month journey to the target asteroid.
AstroForge is actively planning its third mission to land on the asteroid, and the fourth mission, which would be the company’s first refining mission to bring platinum back to Earth.