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The quest to mine precious metals in space

Modern-day electronics depend on a steady supply of precious metals — and some companies think it could soon be cheaper and better for the environment to get them from space.
NASA Psyche asteroid mission
Posted at 8:04 PM, May 15, 2024

From cell phones to electric cars, modern-day electronics are made with precious minerals gathered the old-fashioned way: mining them from the ground.

Now, the search for those metals is headed for the stars.

"Our vision as a company is to completely take all precious metal mining off earth. It's hugely environmentally damaging," says Matt Gialich, founder and CEO of AstroForge, a private company on a mission to mine asteroids, where resources are more concentrated and easier to retrieve.

"We really focus in on one group of elements called the platinum group metals. So these six elements that not only our society needs every day, but to be honest with you, they're also worth a lot of money," Gialich says.

California-based AstroForge believes that by the end of the decade, its spacecraft will be bringing back about 2,200 pounds of refined precious metals per mission.

"That is worth tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars per mission," Gialich says.

The Apple TV+ series "For All Mankind" has made asteroid mining part of its latest storyline this season.

But now, a number of private companies are working to make science fiction science fact.

NASA's OSIRIS-REX mission has already shown it can intercept an asteroid, and bring pieces of it back to Earth.

And right now, NASA's Psyche mission is on its way to study an all-metal asteroid that may have once been the core of a planet. It will arrive at its target in July 2029.

The Giordano Bruno crater on the moon.

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There are thousands of asteroids with mining potential. AstroForge won't say which one it's targeting, but it says it wants to be first in the great space gold rush.

"I think it's the great space platinum rush," Gialich says. "If we make it to deep space, we've changed history. And we're going to keep trying and keep doing these missions until we're either successful or we go bankrupt."