ARCA’s Asteroid Mining Program, an Overview — AMi, Part I

Dumitru Popescu
AMi Exploration
Published in
7 min readApr 14, 2023

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What is AMi?

The Asteroid Mining Program (AMi) is a ten-year program, developed by ARCA Space, using real-life technology.

The program aims to unlock one of the largest sources of wealth in history, through profitable asteroid mining. An important portion of this wealth will be spend to tackle Earth’s problems, like poverty, health, education, global warming and lead to humanity’s expansion in the Solar System, driven by economic rationale.

The AMi Exploration Program’s first asteroid mining mission will aim to return 1,000 kg of platinum. At current prices of around $34,000 per kilogram, that payload would convert into $34,000,000. However, the Recovery Capsule return capacity is up to 2,500 kg, which would be worth $85,000,000. It is our plan to increase the quantity of returned valuable ore with each flight.

Until 2031, ARCA plans to return $1 billion worth of ore to Earth.

To make all of this possible, ARCA develops the EcoRocket Heavy launcher and the AMi Cargo spaceship. This eco-friendly, cost-effective cargo delivery to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), significantly reduces the use of polluting propellants and drops the launch costs to an unprecedented low.

The development of asteroid-mining hardware will also offer technical capabilities for planetary defence against asteroid collision threats.

The AMi Exploration Program is carried out by a dedicated team from ARCA Space that has 24 years of aerospace experience.

Just like the ancient European explorers looking for new horizons, the Earth’s ever-growing population is searching for more and more resources. Earth is limited on what it can offer. However, through the Solar System there are countless places from which the human race could procure those resources. The most suitable candidates seem to be the asteroids. Why is this? Due to their small size, they have a low gravity and it is easy to lift the exploited resources out of them.

Asteroid mining has massive economic potential and can kickstart new, high-revenue industries and high-paying jobs. Since ARCA operates as a non-profit, one of its duties is social responsibility. ARCA is going to spend part of the mining revenue to provide better medical care, education, improved living conditions for the people from poor areas of the world, and directly support new breakthroughs in science and technology.

There are various companies from all over the world that are proposing asteroid-mining operations, but none of them have the expertise or the technical capability to develop the needed cost-effective hardware. ARCA aims to change this and use its 24 years of aerospace expertise and already available hardware to reach the goal of effective asteroid mining.

The AMi Exploration Program will contribute to humanity’s expansion to other worlds and make Earth a better place.

AMi Objectives

The AMi objectives cover the decade between 2022–2031, and are focused on creating the infrastructure for the AMi Exploration Program. Initially, it aims to generate revenue from Near Earth Objects (NEO) mining activities. That will set the stage for creating revenue from asteroid belt mining activities, after 2031.

Here are the ten-year (2022–2031) objectives of the AMi Exploration Program:

  • The creation of regular asteroid mining operations;
  • The creation of an orbital resource depot;
  • Direct revenue of at least $1 billion from asteroid mining operations until 2031;
  • Spending at least $100 million on education, providing food, medical care, and global warming prevention in poor areas of the world until 2031.

Economic considerations

But why are the asteroids of interest? The asteroids are leftover material from the early formation of the solar system or debris from the destruction of a planet. There are tens of thousands of asteroids circling the Sun, inside the asteroid belt, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Some asteroids are however flying close to Earth. These are called Near Earth Objects (NEO). There are around 18,000 NEO asteroids discovered so far. Around 10% of NEO are more accessible than the Moon in terms of required Δv, so this makes them the most suitable candidates.

The asteroids could provide us with vast quantities of minerals. Typical precious metals could include gold, platinum, rhodium, iridium, silver, osmium, palladium, and tungsten. They are relatively evenly distributed throughout the asteroid body due to its low gravity, and only shallow drilling is required to extract the ore.

There are some techniques already considered for ore extraction from the asteroids, as follows:

- mine material and bring it back to Earth for processing;

- dig the material out and process it on site and then bring it back to Earth;

- bring the asteroid to Earth orbit and mine the material on LEO where more infrastructure would supposedly be available.

They could also have massive quantities of construction materials such as iron, cobalt, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, aluminium and titanium. Some may even have large quantities of water and oxygen, vital for life support and growing food and hydrogen, ammonia, and oxygen that would be very useful for rocket propulsion systems, too.

With the upcoming plans for space colonisation programs initiated by other space companies and government agencies, ARCA expects that the demand for resources in the Earth orbit could be high, and therefore the presence of an orbital depot could prove an extremely lucrative business.

There are three different types of asteroids that are of interest for mining operations:

- C-type asteroids have a high abundance of water which is not currently of use for mining but could be used in an exploration effort beyond the asteroid. Mission costs could be reduced by using the available water from the asteroid. C-type asteroids also have a lot of organic carbon, phosphorus, and other key fertiliser ingredients, which could be used to grow food in space. Around 80% of the asteroids are of C-type.

- S-type asteroids carry little water but look more attractive because they contain numerous metals including: nickel, cobalt and more valuable metals such as gold, platinum and rhodium. A small 10-meter S-type asteroid contains about 650,000 kg of metal with 50 kg in the form of rare metals like platinum.

- M-type asteroids are rare but contain up to 10 times more metal than S-type ones.

Astronomical or spaceflight observations suggests that there are trillions of dollars’ worth of minerals and metals buried in asteroids. As of September 2016, there are 711 known asteroids with a value exceeding $100 trillion. As an example, the 300 m wide NEO asteroid (436724) 2011 UW158 was said to contain platinum worth as much as $5.4 trillion. This information was however disputed by commenters, who claimed that the suggested value is “orders of magnitude too high”.

Platinum-rich asteroids may contain grades of up to 100 grams per ton, 10–20 times higher than open pit platinum mines in South Africa. These ore grades mean that one 500-meter-wide platinum-rich asteroid could contain nearly 175 times the annual global platinum output, or 1.5 times the known world reserves of platinum group metals. Bernstein’s Wall Street research firm reports that a large (200 km wide) asteroid called 16 Psyche in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter could contain enough nickel ore to cover the current human demand for millions of years.

Some NEO metallic asteroids as small as 200 m across have been valued at $30 billion. Planetary Resources estimates that a single 30-meter-long platinum-rich asteroid could contain $25 to $50 billion worth of platinum at today’s prices (Klotz, 2012).

According to NASA, the minerals that lie in the belt of asteroids between Mars and Jupiter hold metal worth a staggering $100 million for every person on Earth.

There are many resources that are scarce on earth but exist in abundance on asteroids. Exploiting these resources could add trillions of dollars to the world economy and push us to expand beyond our home planet. This could even create an entirely new suite of industries and occupations.

Due to this economic incentive some countries have begun to offer regulatory and financial incentives to encourage the nascent space mining industry. In July 2017, Luxembourg introduced legislation to allow companies with a physical presence in the country to keep any resources they mine from celestial bodies. Luxembourg also offers research and development assistance to space resource companies and invests directly in them through a fund of around €200m established for this purpose. The Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources US-based companies benefited from this. Similar legislation was introduced in the US in 2015 when President Barack Obama signed the so-called “Space Law”, which allows private individuals and companies to perform space mining.

Going by the current value of platinum, trillions of dollars worth is out there, with a large supply prices would fall and even crash the market. However, huge profits could be expected before market saturation.

The expansion of space for mining purposes also raises questions in international law that must be addressed. The International Treaty of Outer Space, signed by the UN in 1967, states that no country can claim exclusive ownership to any celestial body in outer space. As space mining becomes a more viable industry in the future, there will certainly be disputes between countries over who will ultimately benefit from the resources exploited in space.

The opening of space for natural resource exploitation has the potential to create an entire new field of jobs and drastically alter the world economy. The mining of asteroids, for example, has the potential to add billions of dollars in resources.

The global asteroid-mining industry attracted $712 million of investments in 2017 and is likely to reach $3,868.9 million by 2025, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 24.4% from 2018 to 2025.

Another implication to consider is environmental protection. Space mining could result in significantly reduced carbon emissions compared to the extraction on earth as the earth mining techniques, especially of rare metals, is a highly polluting process.

In the next article we’ll talk about the AMi key elements that will allow this endeavour become reality.

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