Asteroid mining startup AstroForge readies first mission

Artist rendition of a mining operation in space. (Screenshot via YouTube.)

AstroForge, a startup with plans to mine asteroids, is getting ready to launch the first of its two missions on Friday, of which the main objective is to test the firm’s technique for refining platinum from a sample of asteroid-like material. 

The startup has placed a payload on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, pre-packed with elements similar to those found in asteroids. Working in Earth’s orbit, the OrbAstro-built cubesat will attempt to vaporize and sort the materials into their elemental components.

AstroForge says its vehicle Brokkr-1 aims to demonstrate the company’s refining capabilities in the vacuum of space and zero gravity. 

The second mission, scheduled for October this year, will focus on scouting an already identified asteroid that is close enough to Earth to potentially be mined.

The rideshare mission, chartered by Intuitive Machines, will attempt to send the second spacecraft  —Brokkr-2  — to the (so far undisclosed) asteroid located 35.4 million km (22 million miles) from Earth for a future retrieval mission. 

The company said it would take about 11 months to reach the celestial body. The overall mission will last two years, with spacecraft testing continuing after the flyby to simulate a projected round-trip mission.

Asteroid mining startup AstroForge readies first mission
Asteroid AI provides the AstroForge team the ability to track and lock onto the asteroid as the spacecraft makes its final approach. (Image courtesy of Ed Carreon | AstroForge.)

When the time comes, AstroForge intends to target asteroids measuring 20 to 1,500 meters (66 to 4,920 feet ) in diameter and, instead of landing on them, will break them apart from a distance and collect the valuable aggregate materials.

Both journeys are part of AstroForge’s goal of refining platinum-group metals, or PGMs, from asteroids, with the goal of cutting down the cost of mining these metals. It also hopes to reduce the massive amount of carbon dioxide emissions that stem from mining rare earth elements on our own planet, according to chief executive officer Matthew Gialich.

RELATED: Scientists working on autonomous swarms of robots to mine the Moon

“With a finite supply of precious metals on Earth, we have no other choice than to look to deep space to source cost-effective and sustainable materials,” Gialich said in the statement.

The Huntington Beach, California-based company raised $13 million in seed funding in 2022 — its first year of existence. So far, it has partnered up with big names in the industry, including OrbAstro, Dawn Aerospace, and Intuitive Machines.

Recently, the startup collaborated with the Colorado School of Mines to publish a paper that emphasized the potential concentration of metals to be obtained from asteroids.

Asteroid mining startup AstroForge readies first mission
Laser tests the removal of material within AstroForge’s mining process. (Image courtesy of Ed Carreon | AstroForge.)

If the initial two missions are successful, AstroForge intends to launch a third one, which will attempt to land on the asteroid they have identified. A fourth mission will then try to extract and refine its metals before returning to Earth.

AstroForge is not the first startup to try asteroid mining, but its timing may be better. Two previous companies, Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries emerged about a decade ago, but neither company arrived on any asteroids and were eventually acquired and rerouted to other endeavours.

Nearly 9,000 asteroids larger than 36 meters (150 feet) in diameter orbit near Earth. Geologists believe they are packed with iron ore, nickel and precious metals at much higher concentrations than those found on Earth, making up a market valued in the trillions of dollars.

AstroForge founders, Jose Acain and Matt Gialich. (Image courtesy of Ed Carreon | AstroForge.)