Asteroid mining startup Astroforge is heading to space twice this year as it tries to do what no other company has done before: unlock the limitless value of precious minerals in deep space.
When TechCrunch covered Astroforge’s seed last April, we noted that the company was planning a demonstration mission sometime this year. Today, AstroForge released more details on that mission, as well as one more mission later in the year that will take the company to a target asteroid for observation.
The first mission will begin in April with SpaceX’s Transporter-7 rideshare launch. The 6U CubeSat being supplied by space technology firm Orbastro will be preloaded with “asteroid-like material” to demonstrate Astroforge’s detection and extraction capabilities in a zero-gravity environment. The second mission will see the company deep into space to collect data on the asteroid’s surface, which the company hopes to generate within a decade.
“We have to find some way to get the regolith off the asteroid and run it through our refinery,” CEO Matt Jialich said in an interview with TechCrunch.
He said the company is working with consultants from universities, NASA and the non-profit Planetary Science Institute to identify the most promising asteroids to exploit. The company recently published a paper with the Colorado School of Mines evaluating the iron content of asteroids that could be mined and sold on Earth.
That paper described “investigating the surface of metal-rich asteroid surfaces,” and Gialich confirmed that the second mission would be to study the target asteroid’s surface using high-resolution images. He declined to provide more information about the asteroid other than that it is closer to home than a rock in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
“The asteroid belts, they’re so far away, they take us on a 14-year round trip,” he said. “It’s the best thing for research and exploration. […] This is not a viable business case for us,” he said.
Instead, the company will launch a trip to lunar orbit with Houston-based Intuitive Machines before heading into deep space. The Astroforge spacecraft, again powered by OrbAstro, will make a much shorter 11-month journey to its target asteroid.
AstroForge is actively planning to land its third mission on an asteroid, the company’s first refining mission to return platinum to Earth.