Asteroid mining startup plans its first private deep space mission

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The OrbAstro ORB-50 satellite platform will house a variety of instruments needed to assess the target asteroid from a distance.
Illustration: Intuitive Machines

AstroForge has announced an ambitious commercial mission to observe a distant asteroid, an important step for the California startup in its effort to become the world’s first deep space mining company.

AstroForge seeks to capitalize on the rapidly evolving state of the spaceflight industry and become the first company to mine metals in deep space. The California Startup raised $13 million in seed funding last year—its first year of existence— and now formally has Announced two mining related missions that are scheduled to launch within the calendar year. The company is partnering with several others to make it happen, including OrbAstro, Dawn Aerospace, and Intuitive Machines.

Space is the place, as Sun Ra said, and it certainly has a lot to offer, including rare earth metals such as platinum, gold, iridium, palladium, and osmium, among other minerals. The materials on a single asteroid could get billions of dollars, making asteroid mining a tempting prospect. This idea has been around for decades, but the excessive costs associated with the effort have made it largely impossible. That is changing, however, as it has never been more affordable to launch rockets and build satellites and spacecraft.

AstroForge targets platinum group metals, or PGMs, which are used in a variety of industries. The precious rare earth metal palladium, for example, is used in catalytic converters, which is why these automotive components are often targeted by thieves. “With a finite supply of precious metals on Earth, we have no choice but to search deep space for cost-effective, sustainable materials,” said Matt Gialich, CEO and co-founder of AstroForge, in a statement. declaration.

More about this story: California startup raises $13 million to harvest platinum from asteroids

The first of two AstroForge missions is scheduled to launch in April. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch a 6U cubesat prepackaged with asteroid-like materials. Working in Earth orbit, the OrbAstro-built cubesat will attempt to vaporize and classify materials into their elemental components.

The second mission, scheduled to launch in October, raises the stakes. A Falcon 9 carpool mission rented by Intuitive Machines will attempt to send a spacecraft, called Brokkr-2, to an asteroid in a heliocentric orbit located 22 million miles (35.4 million kilometers) away. Brokkr-2, based on OrbAstro’s ORB-50 satellite bus, will observe the target asteroid from a distance in preparation for the company’s first bona fide asteroid recovery mission. When the time comes, AstroForge intends to target asteroids ranging from 66 to 4,920 feet (20 to 1,500 meters) in diameter, and instead of landing on the objects, it will break them up from a distance and collect the valuable added materials.

OrbAstro, with offices in the UK, New Zealand and Germany, is building the 220-pound (100-kilogram) Brokkr-2 probe, which will carry a large number of payloads associated with assessing asteroids in space. Powered by a Dawn Aerospace propulsion system and propelled by a lunar gravity assist, Brokkr-2 will reach its target asteroid after an eight-month journey. according to to OrbAstro.

Whether or not deep space asteroid mining will prove to be a sustainable and profitable venture remains an unanswered question, but genuine attempts to make it happen are now officially underway. I have no qualms about mining distant asteroids, which serve no useful purpose as they orbit the Sun. Furthermore, mining on Earth can be reprehensibly harmful, damaging ecosystems, ruining lives and landscapes, and producing greenhouse gases in

The problem with asteroid mining is what it potentially does to Earth, be it damage imposed by an excessive number of rocket launches, the processing of these materials in factories, and a preponderance of new products destined for landfills. Whether you’re for or against asteroid mining, or just ambivalentit is clear that we need to have these conversations.

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