Minerals rare on Earth, but abundant in space: this is becoming a real motivation for certain companies, which consider it simpler, even less expensive, to drill in orbit rather than to dig our planet.
Why is this important?The new craze for the conquest of space is no longer so much motivated by a pioneering spirit and a desire to be the first to plant its flag somewhere; now, we intend to make our investments in orbit profitable.
AstroForge is a startup that plans to mine metals directly on asteroids, and believes it can be cheaper than in our land mines while releasing less CO2 into our atmosphere.
- In a press release published on its site on January 24, the company recalled that it had completed a financing round which brought in $13 million, and announced in the process that this budget would enable it to carry out its first two launches this year.
- The first mission will leave in April 2023 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9, in the form of a cubesat named Brokkr-1, and built by the British company OrbAstro, which will have to demonstrate the feasibility of extracting ores in weightlessness and to refine them in space.
- The second, Brokkr-2, scheduled for October 2023 as part of a SpaceX lunar mission, will be an exploratory mission to an Earth-orbiting asteroid seen as promising prospecting ground.
- AstroForge specifically looks for platinum group metals: ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, iridium, platinum, and rhenium. Rare metals, with very specific physical properties, and therefore necessarily very precious. According to figures from 2005, the respective market value of palladium was half that of gold, that of platinum twice the value of gold, and that of rhodium three times.
“These two missions are monumental not only for AstroForge, but also for society as a whole. We are proving step by step that asteroid mining is not a sci-fi fantasy, but a viable method to protect and preserve our Earth. »AstroForge
Exploit space to relieve the planet?
- According to the company, exploiting this kind of rare and precious substances in orbit would, in the long term, generate less carbon monoxide and various pollutions than digging our planet to obtain them. The cost-effectiveness of the approach, however, has yet to be demonstrated, but since a new prospecting project takes years to lead to a landmine, the question is indeed worth asking.
- So much so that the question of competition already arises, as in the early days of the quest for oil on Earth: AstroForge has already specified that it would not name the asteroids to be prospected, in the name of exclusivity: “I do not don’t think we’ll ever publicly disclose the asteroids we’re going to visit, says company founder Matt Gialich to Space News. “We don’t really see the need to release the name, so why take the risk of releasing it? »
- AstroForge only specified that the targeted asteroid was less than 100 meters in diameter. It will take about 11 months to reach the asteroid, flying over it at a distance of about a kilometer hoping that it is indeed composed of precious metals. The global mission will last two years, to simulate a round trip mission. And if this is the hoped-for vein, others will most likely follow.
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