Just a few years ago, space mining seemed inevitable. Analysts, technology visionaries and even renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson predict that space mining will be big business.
Space mining companies such as Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, supported by GoogleLarry Page and Eric Schmidt popped up to take advantage of the predicted return.
Fast forward to 2022, and both Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries were acquired by companies not related to space mining.Humans are not yet commercialized Mine is even an asteroid. So what took so long?
Space mining is a long-term undertaking, and investors don’t necessarily have the patience to support it.
“If we had to develop a full-scale asteroid mining vehicle today, we would need hundreds of millions of dollars to do it using commercial processes. It’s hard to convince the investment community that this is the right thing to do,” said Joel Sercel, TransAstra Company President and Chief Executive Officer.
“In today’s economics and in the near future, in the next few years, it doesn’t make sense to go after precious metals on asteroids. The reason is that the cost of going to and from asteroids is so high that it will definitely exceed what you can utilize from asteroids. The value of anything,” Sersell said.
That didn’t stop Sercel from trying to mine the universe. TransAstra will initially focus on mining asteroids for water to make rocket propellants, but eventually hopes to mine “everything on the periodic table.” But Sercel said such a task is still a long way off.
“In terms of the timeline for mining asteroids, the biggest issue for us is funding. So it depends on how quickly we can expand into these other businesses and then get a asteroid with all the components. Practical engineering experience with operating systems mining systems. But we might launch asteroid missions in a 5- to 7-year time frame.”
Sercel hopes these other ventures will stay afloat until it develops its asteroid mining operations. The idea is to use technologies that will eventually be incorporated into TransAstra’s asteroid mining missions to meet existing market needs, such as using space tugs to deliver satellites to their exact orbits and using satellites to assist when space becomes increasingly crowded traffic management.
AstroForge is another company that believes space mining will become a reality. AstroForge, founded in 2022 by a former SpaceX engineer and ex-Virgin Galactic engineer, still believes that mining precious metals on asteroids can make money.
“On Earth, we have limited amounts of rare earth elements, especially platinum group metals. These are industrial metals that are used in everyday things like your cell phone, cancer, drugs, catalytic converters, etc. and we’ve run out. And getting more The only way to get more of this is to get out of the world,” said AstroForge co-founder and CEO Matt Gialich.
AstroForge plans to mine and refine these metals in space and bring them back to Earth for sale. To keep costs down, AstroForge will attach its refined payload to off-the-shelf satellites and launch them on SpaceX rockets.
“There are quite a few companies that make what’s called a satellite bus. That’s what you usually think of as a satellite, a box with solar panels on it, a propulsion system attached to it. So for us, we don’t want to reinvent the wheel there, “Gialich said. “People before us, Planetary Resources and DSI [Deep Space Industries], they had to buy the whole car. They have to build more, bigger, and more expensive satellites, which require a huge injection of money. I think that was the ultimate downfall for both companies. “
The biggest challenge, AstroForge says, is deciding which asteroids to target for mining. Before embarking on their own missions, all early-stage mining companies must continue to study existing observational data from researchers and hope that the asteroids they choose contain the minerals they seek.
“The technical part you can control, the operational part you can control, but you can’t control what an asteroid is until you get there,” AstroForge co-founder and CTO Jose Acain said.
To learn more about the challenges facing space mining companies and their plans to make space mining a real business, watch the video.