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The commercialization of deep space is about to be feasible

At Initialized, we strive to identify new, sometimes seemingly far-fetched opportunities before they become obvious. 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 in deep space is one such opportunity.

One of our most recent investments, AstroForge, is a second-gen asteroid mining startup founded by two passionate cofounders—Matt Gialich, a former Virgin Orbit engineer, and Jose Acain, a former SpaceX and NASA engineer.

While the dream of asteroid mining (officially) originated with a 1898 work of speculative fiction, “Edison’s Conquest of Mars,” by astronomer, journalist, and science fiction author Garrett Serviss, the first few asteroid mining startups came (and largely went) within the last decade. But what a difference a decade makes. “We’ve been watching the market open the door to deep space commercialization, and we suddenly had this moment where we realized — now is the time. This is no longer science fiction.” says cofounder and CEO Matt Gialich.

A growing list of necessary and increasingly sufficient technical and commercial requirements are being satisfied in all the key areas. The cost of launching payloads into low Earth orbit (LEO) today is just 20% of what it was two decades ago, according to the Center for Strategic & International Studies.

Recent advances in robotics have resulted in smaller and smaller, more capable, commodified components. Propulsion and power systems have continued to advance. The necessary legal framework for deep space resource rights now exists. More agile development approaches have been developed and indoctrinated by firms like SpaceX and, in the process, revolutionized the industry. 

Additionally, Japan’s Hayabusa 1 and 2 spacecraft have conducted exploratory missions to asteroids, with Hayabusa 2 successfully returned samples to Earth. NASA’s Osiris-REx spacecraft will drop off its asteroid ore sample during its flyby of Earth in 2023 on its way to the next asteroid to explore. Those missions prove roundtrip missions from Earth to asteroids and back are not just possible but also repeatable. Such precedents are invaluable to founders.

AstroForge is leveraging all the preceding advances to engineer a solution optimized for affordability, rapid iteration, and in-situ ore refining to enable the most compact return payload as possible. The rest, as they say in the deep space mining community, is just astrodynamics.