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Mining and Metals – TechCrunch

Hello and welcome to Max Q. There’s SO much news this week, so let’s get to it.

In this problem:

  • Astroforge’s asteroid mining ambitions
  • Boeing’s Starliner comes home
  • News from Virgin Orbit, Rocket Lab and more

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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. Startup Y Combinator 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 as early as the end of the decade. (Yes, that’s not a typo – end of the decade!)

For starters, Astroforge will conduct a technology demonstration mission sometime next year. The company has already booked a spot on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rideshare mission, and it has also struck a deal with OrbAstro to manufacture the satellite. But for now, the startup remains mum on the actual details of the payload and how it will solve the myriad technical challenges that asteroid mining is so notorious for.

“Now we need to build a world-class team moving forward because this is a really tough problem to solve,” said co-founder Matt Gialich. Later in the conversation, he added, “That’s the fun part of startups, isn’t it? It’s a big risk until you do.

Welcome back, Starliner! The spacecraft landed in New Mexico on Wednesday, successfully concluding a six-day mission and the craft’s first successful test flight. As TC’s Devin Coldewey writes, even if not everything went exactly as planned, “this success could make Boeing a much-needed second supplier of commercial launch capabilities to the ISS.”

During a post-launch briefing, NASA Commercial Crew Program Manager Steve Stich called the landing “picture perfect.”

The next step is a Crew Flight Test (CFT), which will carry astronauts and, for this reason, will be much larger. The date of this launch will probably not be fixed for several months.

Picture credits: Boeing/NASA/YouTube

More news from TC

  • The Diffractive Solar Sailing Project received $2 million from NASA to develop diffractive solar sails, a kind of space propulsion not dissimilar to how sails propel boats.
  • Planet, Black sky and Maxar are set to secure billions in government contracts from the National Reconnisance Office, an agency of the Department of Defense that operates intelligence satellites. “The NRO has a longstanding strategy of ‘buy what we can, build what we must,'” NRO Director Chris Scolese said in a press release.
  • Stellar Link added a new “RV” plan to provide coverage for stationary RVs in parking lots, campgrounds and RV parks. It costs $135 per month, plus the cost of hardware. SpaceX’s internet service now has over 400,000 subscribers worldwide (!!!).

…and beyond

  • Amazon‘s AWS has announced the 10 startups selected to participate in its Space Accelerator 2022. See the full list here.
  • Astroscale The UK branch has received a funding boost of around $15.9 million from OneWeb and the European Space Agency to launch its ELSA-M orbital debris remediator towards the end of 2024.
  • Reference space systems opened a facility in the UK, the latest sign that the European space industry is ready to catch up with ours here in the US.
  • Town released a 92-page report on the space industry, estimating that it will generate $1 trillion in revenue by 2040. The banking group speculated that the satellite market will continue to dominate, but growth the fastest will come from “new space applications and industries” such as space logistics and asteroid/moon extraction.
  • Firefly Aerospace will likely target a July 17 launch for its Alpha rocket from NASA’s Vandenberg Space Force Base, assuming all goes as planned with regulators, Eric Berger Reports.
  • Gamaa French space start-up, has partnered with NanoAvionics for satellite bus, integration and launch services and satellite operations, for a demonstration mission of Gama’s solar sail propulsion system.
  • Launchera rocket startup, has won a US Space Force contract worth $1.7 million to further develop its first rocket engine.
  • Lunar Outposta Colorado-based startup focused on robots and rovers for the moon, closed a $12 million funding round led by Explorer 1 Fund with participation from Promus Ventures, Space Capital, Type One Ventures and Cathexis Ventures.
  • Nasa is targeting June 6 for the second dress rehearsal attempt of the Space Launch System, the launch vehicle that will lift off for the agency’s first Artemis mission. Rewatch the press conference here.
  • open cosmosa UK-based space technology company, has launched a new platform called DataCosmos to “provide advanced tools for visualizing and working with data,” the company said in a press release.
  • Orientespace, a Chinese rocketry company, has closed a $59.9 million Series A led by HikeCapital. The company joins a growing group of startups in China looking to develop launchers.
  • relativity space is working hard to transform Launch Complex 16 at Cape Canaveral into the site that will launch the company’s 3D-printed Terran 1 rocket by the end of this year.
  • perspective from spacea startup that wants to launch sightseeing rides on stratospheric balloons, closed a new $17 million funding round, bringing its total funding to date to more than $65 million.
  • SpaceX launched Transporter-5 on Wednesday, carrying 59 spacecraft on a booster that saw eight missions (including this one). Customers include HawkEye 360, Spire and Satellogic. The rocket also carried a demonstration mission for Nanoracks, which tests metal cutting in space. (Look for a follow-up story soon.) Rewatch the launch here.
  • stratolaunch launched its “structurally complete” test hypersonic launch vehicle, Talon-A. The vehicle will be used to validate the drop system of the Roc aircraft carrier (to which Talon-A will be attached). See photos here.
  • Ubotica Technologies raised $4.2 million in seed funding led by Atlantic Bridge with investment from Dolby Family Ventures and Seraphim Space. The Irish startup is developing an on-board processing system for satellites.
  • Varda Space industries, a startup that wants to build manufacturing facilities in space, has ordered a fourth Photon spacecraft from Rocket Lab. Photon will provide all relevant infrastructure (such as propulsion, power and attitude control) for Varda’s 120 kg manufacturing payload. It will also bring back to Earth in a re-entry capsule all the products made by Varda.

Picture of the week

I loved this picture, tweeted by Relativity Space, from the second floor of Terran 1 crossing state lines. If all goes as planned, Terran 1 will make its first orbital launch attempt by the end of this year. Picture credits: relativity space (Opens in a new window)

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