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Asteroid mining startup AstroForge will test its metal refinery tech in space this year • TechCrunch

Asteroid mining startup AstroForge is going to space twice this year, as it tries to do what no other company has been able to do before: unlock potentially limitless value of precious minerals in deep space.

As TechCrunch reports AstroForge seed round last April, we note that the company is planning a demonstration mission sometime this year. Today, AstroForge announced more details about that mission, and announced an additional mission later in the year that will take the company to a target asteroid for observations.

AstroForge's refinery operates in a simulated space vacuum.

AstroForge’s refinery operates in a simulated space vacuum. Image credits: AstroForge/Ed Carreon

The first mission will kick off in April on SpaceX’s Transporter-7 rideshare launch. The 6U CubeSat, powered by space technology company OrbAstro, will be pre-loaded with “asteroid-like material” to demonstrate AstroForge’s refining and mining capabilities in zero gravity. The second mission will take the company into deep space, to collect data on the surface of an asteroid the company hopes to mine by the end of the decade.

“We had to find some way to get the regolith out of the asteroid and process it in our refinery, and we believe they do,” CEO Matt Gialich said in an interview with TechCrunch. I solved that for my target asteroid.

He said the company is working with advisors from universities, NASA and the research nonprofit Planetary Science Institute to help identify the most promising asteroids to mine. Recently, the company also publish an article with the Colorado School of Mines evaluates the metal content on asteroids that can be mined and sold as commodities on Earth or used in space.

That paper noted that “the texture of metal-rich asteroid surfaces is still being studied,” and Gialich confirmed that a second mission would be to study the surface of the target asteroid using Use high resolution images. He declined to provide more information about the asteroid, other than that it is closer to home, for example, a rock in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

“The asteroid belts, they’re so far away, they’re going to take us on like trips around 14 years,” he said. “It’s something much more suitable for research and discovery. […] That is not a viable business case for us.”

Instead, the company will hitchhike to lunar orbit with the Houston-based Visualizer before moving into deep space. AstroForge’s spacecraft, once again powered by OrbAstro, will begin a much shorter 11-month journey to the target asteroid.

AstroForge is actively planning a third asteroid landing and a fourth mission, which will be the company’s first refining mission to bring platinum back to Earth.

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