Matt Gialich, a 37-year-old tech entrepreneur who wants to take to the skies from Los Angeles, holds a marble-sized silver ball in front of his webcam. “You can simply buy meteorites like this from collectors,” he says in a video call. “It gives you an indication of what might be found in the space.”
The meteorite in his hand is composed of 92 percent iron ore. It also contains some iridium and fifteen other elements, including nickel and cobalt. Jialic: “The last two are not economically interesting for us.”
You don’t hear very often in the raw materials world that nickel and cobalt aren’t interesting. Battery makers Shout, shout, shout Precisely because of these metals, especially for electric car batteries.
But Jialic has to be selective. His company was founded in 2021 AstroforgeHe, along with about two dozen engineers, wants to be the first to extract minerals in space. And yes, one goal is to get rich, so only the most expensive metals are allowed back: platinum, iridium, osmium and other platinum group elements. Platinum Costs More than 30 thousand dollars per kilo Nickel $2.
One of the goals is to get rich, so only the most expensive metals are allowed back: platinum, iridium, osmium and other platinum group elements.
Platinum group metals are highly sought after in catalytic converters, smartphones, fiber optic cables, medical instruments and aircraft engines. Platinum is also important for hydrogen cars that are now in the design stage. But on Earth, we have run out of easily extractable reserves. The other problem is that mineral extraction harms the climate and environment.
Leadership in the space economy
As far as Jialic is concerned, there is therefore every reason to develop space. He has previously described his project as “a journey to secure the future of the planet.” Even bigger words come from another startup, also from California Trans Astra“Asteroids contain enough raw materials to support a trillion people,” the company wrote on its website.
Companies outside the United States are also keen to lead in the space economy. British Asteroid Mining Company He is working on a spider-like robot that can wrap its legs around an asteroid. In China, there is Origin Space according to Chinese media It launched its first space robot two years ago, which conducts mining experiments and cleans space waste.
“We have a long list of suitable asteroids here at the office,” says Jialich. Suitable means, among others: asteroids containing many metals ( M type), has a diameter of 30 to 500 meters and is fairly accessible. He keeps the list secret, as well as the asteroid chosen by AstroForge Asteroid target For what will be the first commercial space mining by Earthlings.
Space mining has always been science fiction. The fact that this now seems possible is due in large part to tech billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. Its space transportation services with SpaceX and Blue Origin make transporting technology into space much cheaper.
For example, AstroForge was ahead last April First task Leased space aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. This rocket put a small satellite into Earth orbit. AstroForge will test a method to separate “asteroid-like material” – brought from Earth – into different elements in a zero-gravity environment. So space filter.
The second mission was postponed until early next year. The probe then goes to the selected asteroid for an observation mission. After that, two more research missions must be successful before the business can begin.
Although you might think that the solar system has enough room for all the astronauts, AstroForge is constantly working on its competitive position. “We want to be the first and the fastest,” says Jialic. The first mission containing duplicate materials is expected to land on Earth “long before the end of this decade.” The ultimate goal is to bring back between 1,000 and 1,200 kilograms of metal per trip.
The second mission was postponed until early next year. The probe then goes to the selected asteroid for an observation mission
Joost Karpay, Director of Space Programs at the Netherlands Space Agency NSOThis certainly does not rule out space mining becoming a reality. “Though I’d be surprised if it’s profitable in fifty years.” He also sees the advantages. “We all know the geopolitical situation,” he says, referring to the global search for minerals needed for the energy transition and digitalization. “We also know the consequences of mining on ecosystems and indigenous people. You can do much less damage in space. Asteroids are pieces of rock, and nothing lives there.
10 trillion dollars
Whether this is also better for the climate should become clear through sequential analysis, Carpay believes. This means: identifying and collecting emissions from all stages of the production process, and then comparing them to mining on land.
As Jialic tries to reach his secret asteroid, NASA makes a move a task That he can only dream of it. On October 13, a spacecraft — aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket — took off toward 16 Psyche, a metallic asteroid that could tell scientists more about the origins of the solar system based on its composition.
The psyche does not only appeal to the imagination of scientists. It is suspected to be so rich in nickel and iron that speculation about its value seems ridiculous. $10 trillion (10 quintillion, or 10 billion billion) is the number set by US Chief of Mission Lindy Elkins-Tanton. Quoted. in the meantime Mentionsed They themselves call this nonsense, because it is premature.
That’s not what matters; Psyche is more than 200 kilometers in diameter and orbits the sun within a six-year flyby distance between Mars and Jupiter. No one has the technology to bring it to Earth – in whole or in part; NASA says it has no plans for that. However, Jialic follows every step closely. “I like that!”, is his comment. “This is the mission I would like to do. The breath is huge!” Unfortunately, at AstroForge we don’t have the $1.3 billion that NASA put into it.
Compared to self being Asteroid target Easy to get. It orbits the Earth less than a year away. Now to choose. Jialic is open to whether it will work. “You learn a lot just by doing things,” he says. “You could spend years planning the perfect mission, but we decided to accept the risks.”
Read also: A souvenir from space: NASA’s Osiris-Rex probe successfully brought debris from a small asteroid Bennu to Earth
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