An Interplanetary Economy — why.
Matija Milenovic, Co-Founder & CEO of porkchop
We’re extremely open and uncompromising about our end goal. It is to establish an interplanetary economy within the solar system.
It’s so much easier to just not do it. It’s going to be hard and expensive and time-consuming. It’s enough to make even the most patient of venture capitalists’ stomachs churn in anguish at the thought of backing this.
It therefore quickly becomes abundantly clear that we need to have a very compelling reason to embark on this journey. We found three main reasons:
- Earth has finite, limited resources. Humans are little more than apes with smartphones, and we’re not great at long-term thinking. If we want to accelerate the shift to renewables, we’re going to need a lot of raw material to create batteries at low costs. A limited supply will create scarcity sooner or later, driving up prices. Following that same line of thought, if we can add significantly more material into circulation, we give ourselves a solid chance at mass-production on a scale that can save us from the lack of long-term thinking of previous generations.
- Mining certain raw materials from Earth damages people and the environment. Look at the search results for “Cobalt mining” on Google Images — it’ll make my point better than words ever will. We have a genuine opportunity to improve the lives of the unseen and unheard.
- They’re there. There are between 1.1–1.9 million asteroids in the asteroid belt , located between Mars and Jupiter. Asterank has a catalogue of some of the most interesting ones in terms of their value and ease of access.
The initial cost of going to those asteroids, tapping into their resources, and bringing it back is going to be really high. However, I hope that more competitors will join this race over time, forcing us all to innovate in the name of good.
If we take the asteroid Ryugu (which the Japanese Space Agency, JAXA, already returned samples from in 2020), which has an estimated value of $82.76 Billion, and can only extract 10% of its value, that’s still over $8 Billion worth of material from a single asteroid at today’s prices. Of course, this is an extremely simplified way of looking at the economics, but you get the point.
We intend to open up access to asteroids like Ryugu to the masses using reusable in-space logistics vehicles. Different types of spacecraft will be sent to perform various operations: scouting, landing, power generation & storage, communication, mining, refinement & processing, transportation, and so on. I want to highlight that a lot of these different spacecraft will need to connect with each other to transfer materials, electricity, propellant and data between themselves.
Physically connecting multiple spacecraft is something we really want to focus on, and more generally the concept of stackable satellites. Taking such an approach has benefits both in the short- and long-term: today, we can use this approach to reuse space hardware over several missions in Low Earth Orbit. We can use it to enable in-space assembly of gigantic telescopes, large antennas, and even entire habitats in space. Tomorrow, we can use the same approach to connect standard “building blocks” to make mining asteroids feasible.
Making the above possible will require mastering the art of Rendezvous, Proximity Operations & Docking (RPOD) which is by no means an easy feat. On top of that, we’re going to perform RPOD using our own solid electric thrusters, which we flew back in January 2022.
RPOD missions are among the hardest to perform, and failures are quite common. I sincerely commend Astroscale in their attempts and for sharing the lessons they learned. We’re working hard to avoid making the same ones, but the stakes could not be higher.
What’s at stake is the opportunity to bring the resources of asteroids back to Earth for all of us to use. The sooner we can do this, the sooner we can enter into the next industrial revolution, this time one which doesn’t screw up the planet like the first one did.