The Californian start-up AstroForge aims to exploit near-Earth asteroids to extract platinum. Founded by Matt Gialich and Jose Acain in January 2022, this company has just raised its first thirteen million dollars. These funds will be used to hire and prepare a demonstration mission.
Valuable minerals in space
Platinum group metals (PGM) include several chemical elements belonging to the family of transition metals. Among them are platinum, palladium and rhenium. Metals of this group are used in all areas. “They reduce vehicle emissions or are used in chemotherapy drugs and every electronic device you own contains a number of these,” says Matt Gialich.
Together with his friend Jose Acain, they are the co-founders of AstroForge. The start-up aims to exploit precious extraterrestrial minerals. Both are former employees of Virgin Orbit and SpaceX/NASA, respectively. And they are not idle. During its first months of existence, AstroForge raised thirteen million dollars in seed funding, and developed and tested in the laboratory a new technology for processing asteroid materials. The company has also already reserved a seat aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
“The thirteen million dollars we have just raised will allow us to expand our test center, hire several people and complete this first demonstration launch,” continues Matt Gialich. “Our real mission is to take asteroid mining from the realm of science fiction to the realm of reality.”
AstroForge naturally remains quite discreet about its plans. However, according to TechCrunch, its founders claim to have developed a technique for mining asteroids that can measure from 20 to 1,500 meters in diameter. The idea wouldn’t be to land on it, but to shoot it from a distance to collect the valuable aggregate materials.
A demonstration mission next year
Over the past decade, other companies have also announced bold asteroid mining plans. Most focused on the water that can enable the development of rocket fuel once split into its constituents (hydrogen and oxygen), potentially leading to the creation of “gas stations” in space for passing spacecraft.
In the end, none of these projects came to fruition. AstroForge, on the other hand, does not see asteroid water as a particularly promising target. Indeed, there is currently no real market for propellant deposits in space and SpaceX’s Starship promises to eventually be able to transport huge quantities of water into orbit at a lower cost.
This is why the company focuses on platinum group metals, which are in high demand here on Earth. In addition, their extraction generates a lot of pollution. So extracting them from asteroids in deep space could also provide a climate solution.
The start-up aims to become the very first viable asteroid mining company and hopes to offer a first demonstration mission as early as 2023. A cubesat will then be sent into space to extract platinum from a sample put into orbit during the same flight.