Mission to Psyche will give insights into possible mining on distant worlds, origin of Earth’s core
An unprecedented mission to a metal-rich asteroid launched on Friday—paving the way for companies to, one day, mine similar celestial bodies for ore. “We’re prospecting,” said Jim Bell, a planetary scientist at Arizona State University. “We’re going to look at an example of the kind of object we probably will mine decades to centuries from now.”
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Psyche spacecraft is expected to reach its mission target, an asteroid of the same name, in about six years. Psyche caused a stir in 2017 when the mission’s principal investigator, Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University, calculated the asteroid would be worth $10,000 quadrillion if it were to be brought back to Earth and sold on the metals market.
While insights gained from examining the asteroid from orbit could inform future mining efforts in space, the craft won’t collect metal during the mission. Rather, an up-close examination of Psyche promises to improve our understanding of how Earth and other terrestrial planets formed during the birth of the solar system about 4.5 billion years ago.
Every other solid-surface body that astronauts and uncrewed spacecraft have visited has been made of rock, ice or both. Yet observations from Earth suggest Psyche’s dense, potato-shaped form—roughly the size of Massachusetts—is composed of up to 60% metal.
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