Asteroid mining startup AstroForge is going into space twice this year as it seeks to do what no other company has been able to do before: unlock the potentially limitless value of precious minerals in deep space.
When TechCrunch covered the AstroForge seed round last April, we noted that the company was planning a demonstration mission sometime this year. Today, AstroForge released more details about that mission, announcing an additional mission later in the year that will take the company to an asteroid for observation.
The first mission will launch in April aboard SpaceX’s Transporter-7 rideshare launch. The 6U CubeSat, supplied by space technology company OrbAstro, will be preloaded with “asteroid-like material” to demonstrate AstroForge’s refining and extraction capabilities in the zero-gravity environment. The second mission will see the company go into deep space to collect data on the surface of an asteroid that the company hopes to mine later in the decade.
“We need to find a way to get the regolith off the asteroid and process it in our refinery, and we think we’ve solved that for our target asteroid,” CEO Matt Gialich said in an interview with TechCrunch.
He said the company is working with advisers from universities, NASA and the nonprofit Planetary Science Institute to help identify the most promising asteroids to exploit. The company also recently published a paper with the Colorado School of Mines evaluating the metal content on asteroids that can be mined and sold as a commodity on Earth or used in space.
That paper noted that “textures of metal-rich asteroid surfaces have yet to be explored,” and Gialich confirmed that the second mission will be to study the target asteroid’s surface using high-resolution images. He declined to give much more information about the asteroid, except that it is closer to home than, say, a rock in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
“The asteroid belts are far away, they could take us on a 14-year round trip,” he said. “It is something that is much better suited for research and exploration. […] That is not a viable business case for us.”
Instead, with Houston-based Intuitive Machines, the company will hitch a ride to lunar orbit before continuing 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 return platinum to Earth.