AstroForge, a startup, intends to launch the first two missions to mine rare metals in space as early as 2023. The first launch, scheduled for April, will test AstroForge's technology to clean up platinum in Earth orbit from an asteroid sample. In October, the company will explore an asteroid for mining in deep space.
AstroForge, based in Huntington Beach, Calif., received $13 million in seed funding from Initialized Capital. These investments were used to develop technologies for processing asteroids. Two test flights are scheduled this year as part of AstroForge's quest to reduce the cost of obtaining platinum group metals from asteroids.
"We are processing the asteroid in situ, not the other way around," says Matthew Gialich, chief executive of AstroForge, previously of Virgin Orbit Holdings and Bird Global.
AstroForge's first launch in April will send a small satellite into low Earth orbit, one of the SpaceX Transporter mission's many payloads. This satellite will have a test sample of ore on board, which is similar in appearance to an asteroid.
In October, the company intends to launch its second ship to survey a previously discovered near-Earth asteroid for a future mining mission. This satellite will be launched by a SpaceX rocket along with a lunar lander from another space company, Intuitive Machines, which is slated to do a second descent in February-March of this year.
AstroForge has announced that it intends to send its probe into lunar orbit. From there, a 100-kilogram spacecraft will rendezvous with the asteroid. The company hasn't provided an exact date, but it likely will only proceed until the mining of the asteroid is completed.
With one exception, the October mission will be the first commercial deep space flight outside of Earth's gravity well, according to Ilona's Tesla. "The only other example here is Ilona's Tesla," Gialich adds, referring to the vehicle that was just launched into deep space in 2018 while testing.
AstroForge's entry into the space industry comes a few years after a failed asteroid mining attempt. Both large companies were formed about a decade ago with the intention of mining asteroids. Expeditions to space were never undertaken, and the businesses eventually suffered financial difficulties.
AstroForge has learned from the failures of the two companies: "I think the biggest difference here is that we have made a lot of progress in the last ten to fifteen years since these two companies actually existed, mostly in terms of launch."
AstroForge intends to outsource some infrastructure tasks to contractors. The spacecraft itself is being built by OrbAstro, and SpaceX is coordinating the launches. The company intends to reduce the cost of mining platinum group metals from $30 per gram to $1.50 per gram.
AstroForge intends to undertake a third expedition to landing on the explorated asteroid after the first two flights. The fourth mission will aim to recover and refine the mined ore before returning to Earth.
The company has a difficult journey to the stars. So far, the greatest amount of material ever collected from an asteroid was 250 grams. Now this valuable cargo is just approaching Earth as part of NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission.
Gialich predicts that the fourth mission would launch in February 2025, adding, "Which means it won't launch in February 2025, right? We all know that space is unpredictable and presents a lot of danger."
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