US startup AstroForge aims to launch its first mission to mine metal from asteroids in late 2023 through a partnership with UK-based Orbital Astronautics Ltd (OrbAstro).
A small “cubesat” satellite built by OrbAstro and dubbed Brokkr-1 was launched into low-Earth orbit by SpaceX’s rideshare in April this year to test AstroForge’s technology for extracting metals from asteroids.
The aim is to track this with a larger spacecraft attempting to fly near the near-Earth asteroid and collect data on its composition, including the presence of platinum group metals (PGMs).
AstroForge co-founder and CEO Matt Gialich said in an interview that the spacecraft is “basically ready to be put on a rocket.”
Brokkr-1’s AstroForge technology payload carries “asteroid-like” material that it vaporizes in an attempt to sift the desired metals from less interesting elements.
A second mission, Brokkr-2, will also be built by OrbAstro and will use a larger 100kg vehicle and will be carried on the SpaceX Falcon 9 journey by Intuitive Machines’ IM-2 lunar landing mission.
AstroForge selected a small near-Earth asteroid for this mission, but did not confirm its identity. He said that would “create a risk” and that it was less than 100 meters in diameter.
For Brokkr-2 to reach the asteroid, it will take about 11 months until a flyby designed to test whether the asteroid is metallic “M-type” and to analyze the surface of the asteroid for future missions. It is expected to take months.
The mission will last two years, with companies testing the spacecraft after the flyby to simulate a round-trip mission.
The company says it has confirmed backup launches through 2024, and the rover will still be able to reach the asteroid.
“If we go to an asteroid and prove these things, we want to make sure that we can return to the asteroid on subsequent flights,” co-founder and CEO Matt Ziarich told SpaceNews.
Last summer, the company raised US$13 million to fund its mission, focusing on specialized analytics and mining technology, along with other work outsourced to OrbAstro and others.
Gialich said another funding round would be required to complete the first mining mission.
Ventures such as Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries have strayed from the original mission, and they are not the first to attempt such a mission.