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27th May 2022

Asteroid mining company raises $13m

This week, a new asteroid mining startup emerged from stealth mode.

 

near earth asteroids
Near-Earth asteroids. Credit: NASA

 

AstroForge is a second-generation asteroid mining company based in California, USA. Its two co-founders are Matt Gialich, a former engineer at Virgin Orbit, and Jose Acain, a former SpaceX and NASA engineer.

Yesterday, they announced the closing of $13 million in seed funding to help launch their operations. Initialized Capital led the round, with additional investments from Seven Seven Six, EarthRise, Aera VC, Liquid 2 and Soma.

This amount may seem modest when considering the cost of even getting into orbit, let alone activities beyond that. The failure of two previous companies in the late 2010s – Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries – also showed how critical it is to develop the right technologies alongside a viable business model.

But AstroForge is highly ambitious and believes it can progress to become the first company to mine an asteroid and return material back to Earth. It even claims it can achieve this milestone before 2030, thanks to improvements in cost and technology.

"We've been watching the market open the door to deep space commercialisation, and we suddenly had this moment where we realised – now is the time. This is no longer science fiction," said Gialich.

 

astroforge

 

Gialich and Acain have developed "an innovative technique" to refine materials in space. Although details are sketchy at this stage, they revealed that it needs a high-rated vacuum and zero-G to work, does not involve landing on an asteroid, and will target bodies in the 20 metre to 1.5 km diameter range – meaning they are small enough to lack a significant gravitational field. The payload of their spacecraft will likely be less than 200 kg, allowing them to save on costs by piggybacking alongside bigger ones launching into orbit, from where they could travel to more distant destinations. AstroForge also revealed they plan to target asteroids with platinum-group metals, including platinum and iridium, which could be found in concentrations 20 times higher than the best mines on Earth.

AstroForge is partnering with OrbAstro and will use its initial funding to build the first satellite for a demo mission, using a rideshare on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The company also claims to have identified a number of candidate asteroids with suitable orbits and concentrations of platinum-group metals.

"We strive to identify new, sometimes seemingly far-fetched opportunities before they become obvious," said main investor Initialized Capital, in a statement. "One way to vet many of the most groundbreaking of those opportunities is based on the principle that if something that appears impossible can be broken down into a sequence of arguably feasible steps, it's likely plausible. The semi-automated mining of precious resources on asteroids is one such opportunity."

"I think from an investor standpoint, you've seen a lot of interest in space, and deep tech – and space and deep tech natively just require longer timelines," said Gialich. "We're not a B2B SaaS company, we're not going to be profitable in a year. [...] When you look at the opportunity here – and the opportunity really is to mine the universe – this is such a huge opportunity that investors are willing to make the bet on a longer time horizon."

 

 

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