February 2, 2023

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Asteroid mining startup AstroForge will test its metals refining technology in space this year • TechCrunch

Asteroid mining startup AstroForge will be heading into space twice this year as it seeks to do what no other company has done before: unlock the potentially limitless value of precious minerals in space.

When TechCrunch reported on AstroForge’s seed round last April, we discovered that the company was planning a demonstration mission sometime this year. Today, AstroForge released more details on this mission and announced an additional mission later this year that will take the company to a target asteroid for observation.

AstroForge's refinery operates in the simulated vacuum of space.

AstroForge’s refinery operates in the simulated vacuum of space. Credit: AstroForge/Ed Carreon

The first mission will launch in April aboard SpaceX’s Transporter 7 carpool launch. The 6U CubeSat, provided by space technology company OrbAstro, will be preloaded with “asteroid-like material” to demonstrate AstroForge’s refining and extraction capabilities in zero gravity. The second mission will take the company into space to collect data on the surface of an asteroid that the company hopes to mine later this decade.

“We need to find a way to get the regolith off the asteroid and process it in our refinery, and we think we’ve solved that for our target asteroid,” CEO Matt Gialich said in an interview with TechCrunch.

He said the company is working with consultants from universities, NASA and the nonprofit Planetary Science Institute to help identify the most promising asteroids for exploitation. The company also recently released a paper with the Colorado School of Mines evaluating metal grades on asteroids that could be mined and sold as raw materials on Earth or used in space.

That paper states that “textures of metal-rich asteroid surfaces have yet to be studied,” and Gialich confirmed that the second mission will consist of studying the target asteroid’s surface with high-resolution images. He declined to give much more information about the asteroid other than that it is closer to home than, say, a rock in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

“The asteroid belts, they’re far away, they would take us like 14-year-old round trips,” he said. “It’s something that’s much better suited for research and exploration. […] This is not a viable business case for us.”

Instead, the company will hitchhike to lunar orbit with Houston-based Intuitive Machines before continuing into space. AstroForge’s spacecraft, in turn supplied by OrbAstro, will embark on a much shorter 11-month journey to the target asteroid.

AstroForge is actively planning its third mission to land on the asteroid and fourth mission, which would be the company’s first refining mission to bring platinum back to Earth.