In a nutshell: A mining startup called AstroForge intends to mine asteroids for their mineral content. The company has two missions planned for 2023 to test the viability of the project. The first will demonstrate excellence in zero gravity in orbit, while the second will fly around the moon to study the target rock in deep space.
First AstroForge mission planned for April. It will fly on a SpaceX Transporter-7 rocket. The trip will show investors that the company can mine and process ore in space. The team will use a CubeSat 6U loaded with “astroid” material to test its methods in zero gravity. The company has already proven that its refinery can operate in a vacuum.
AstroForge has not set a date for the second mission other than that it will take place later this year. To do this, the company intends to go into deep space and collect data from the surface of the asteroid.
AstroForge has consultants from several universities, the Institute of Planetary Science and NASA to help identify usable space rocks. Team recently published a study by the Colorado School of Mines that looked at the metal content of asteroids and how they could be mined and traded on Earth or used in space.
The question left by the study was whether mineral-rich asteroids have an identifiable surface texture? The company thinks so. His second sojourn in space should confirm this theory by approaching a specially targeted asteroid and studying its surface using high-resolution images.
Of course the company is not disclosure the location of the asteroid it will look at for obvious reasons. AstroForge CEO Matt Gialich would only say that “it’s closer to home than, say, a rock in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.”
“Asteroid belts, they’re far away, they’d take us like a 14-year round trip,” Gialich told TechCrunch. “This is something that is much better suited for research and exploration … This is not a viable business case for us.”
The rock that AstroForge has in mind is only an 11 month journey away. He will launch his craft into lunar orbit with a Houston-based space startup called Intuitive Machines. From there, he will make the final journey to the chosen asteroid.
Even though it has yet to leave the planet, AstroForge is already in the process of planning its next pair of missions. The third will be landing a ship on an asteroid, and the fourth will be processing and transporting platinum back to Earth.
This is a much more difficult task, but Gialich believes that his team has coped with it.
“We have to find some way to get regolith from an asteroid and process it in our refinery, and we believe we have solved this problem for our target asteroid,” he said.