Astroforge raises $13 million for its asteroid mining ambitions – TechCrunch
Although we have long understood that asteroids are not simply the rubble of the universe, but potentially profitable reserves of valuable minerals, humanity has never been able to unlock this value. Starting the Y combiner Astroforge wants to succeed where other companies have failed, by becoming the first to mine an asteroid and bring the material back to Earth – and it aims to do so by the end of the decade.
To kick off operations, the startup closed a $13 million funding round, funding that co-founder Matt Gialich says will fund Astroforge through its first two missions, including an initial demonstration flight that is expected to be launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rideshare mission next year. . The seed round was led by Initialized Capital, with investments from Seven Seven Six, EarthRise, Aera VC, Liquid 2 and Soma.
Astroforge’s two co-founders, Gialich and Jose Acain, say they’ve developed an innovative technique for refining materials in space – but for now they’re mostly silent on what it entails and how it solves the myriad technical challenges for which Asteroid mining is so notorious. They were able to share that the technology requires high vacuum and zero-G to operate. Gialich also shared that it won’t involve landing on an asteroid, as Astroforge targets bodies 20 meters to 1.5 kilometers in diameter, meaning some will be so small they won’t even have gravitational fields.
There are a few other clues to the company’s future plans, rare as they are. On the face of it, they’re targeting a relatively light operation, likely with a payload of less than 200 kilograms to take advantage of affordable carpool launches to geosynchronous and lunar trajectories. They also attack asteroids rich in concentrations of the six platinum group metals, including platinum and iridium, rather than water, helium or other minerals.
It’s a noble ambition, and Astroforge is moving fast. The company has already partnered with OrbAstro to manufacture the first satellite for the demonstration mission, and Astroforge has also secured a spot on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rideshare mission. It has also identified a number of candidate asteroids that lie in an appropriate orbit and have an appropriate concentration of platinum group metals. And there will be no shortage of asteroids; of the 10 million near-Earth objects, the company is interested in just under a million of them, Gialich said.
A handful of companies — including Planetary Resources and Larry Page-backed Deep Space Industries — have tried to conquer asteroid mining, and each has invested (and lost) millions in the process. But despite the big risks and a long payback period, Astroforge wants to succeed where those companies have failed.
“I think from an investor perspective, you’ve seen a lot of interest in space and deep tech, and space and deep tech natively requires longer timeframes,” Gialich said. “We are not a B2B SaaS company, we are not going to be profitable in a year. […] When you look at the opportunity here – and the opportunity is really to exploit the universe – it’s such a huge opportunity that investors are willing to bet on a longer time horizon.
The company was founded in January by Acain and Gialich, two space industry veterans with respective tenures at SpaceX and NASA, and Virgin Orbit. The company currently has four full-time employees, but is actively recruiting seven more positions.
“Now we have to build a world-class team going forward because it’s a really tough problem to solve,” Gialich said. Later in the conversation, he added, “That’s the fun part of startups, isn’t it? It’s a big risk until you do.