On Tuesday, July 18th, NASA announced that it was under 100 days away from launching a spacecraft designed to study an asteroid potentially worth $10 quintillion.
The space agency’s Jet Propulsion Lab said it had recently completed a comprehensive test of the flight software and installed it on the spacecraft. That cleared a key hurdle that caused the probe to miss its original 2022 launch date.
The 173-mile-wide asteroid is known as 16 Psyche and is thought to be made up of gold, iron, and nickel. The ore on the asteroid has been estimated to be worth about $10 quintillion. NASA announced in 2020 that it would collaborate with Elon Musk’s SpaceX to reach the metal-rich body.
The 2015 US Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act gives companies the legal right to the materials mined from celestial bodies. And firms have already sprung up to test technology that could theoretically make this work.
Meanwhile, NASA’s mission is scientific and geared toward learning more about planetary cores and how planets form. The spacecraft is set to launch in October on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket before heading on a six-year trek to the Main Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter.
The satellite would then orbit the asteroid for 26 months, studying and photographing the body to learn its history and mineral composition.
While NASA focuses on 16 Psyche, the agency previously said that the belt it resided in was full of ore-rich asteroids worth $700 quintillion. The most valuable asteroid in the belt, Davida, is thought to be worth $27 quintillion.
Though a potentially lucrative business for the future, the inflow of valuable minerals from space may not actually produce a bunch of billionaires. That’s because a sudden supply glut would drive metal prices down.