NASA is quietly continuing preparations to launch a probe to study Psyche 16, a massive all-metal asteroid the size of Massachusetts with a diameter of over 200 km. The expedition, called Discovery Mission, is set to liftoff in the summer of 2022, and will arrive at the site in January 2026, using assistance from the gravitational slingshot provided by Mars to help it reach its goal. Preparations for the launch began in 2017.
Discovered in 1852 by Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis, and believed to be the product of violent collisions between the planets during the formation of the solar system billions of years ago, Psyche 16 has since been estimated to be worth the equivalent of over $10,000 quadrillion, hundreds of thousands of times the worth of the entire global economy, whose value is estimated at 'just' $80 trillion.
The official stated mission of the Discovery Mission expedition is to help determine the asteroid's age, study for similarities between its and the Earth's core, and help discover how planets are formed. For these purposes, advanced measuring instruments, including a magnetometer, multi-spectral imager and gamma-ray and neutron spectrometers, will be fitted aboard the space probe.
It's unclear whether a tiny American flag will be fitted aboard the NASA probe as well. However, under the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, signed and ratified by most of the world's countries and all of its major space powers, space-base objects cannot be considered the property of any nation.
The iron-nickel asteroid 16 Psyche could supply Earth with metals for several million years at current rate of consumption. Estimated worth: $10 Quintillion. (📷 NASA conception) pic.twitter.com/7HUF9TV8fH— Andrew Rader (@marsrader) 14 августа 2018 г.
Interest in the fantastical wealth thought to be contained in Psyche 16 picked up this week after Scott Moore, CEO of EuroSun Mining, told OilPrice.com that it was obvious that the future of commodity extraction was in space, not on Earth.
"The 'Titans of Gold' now control hundreds of the best-producing properties around the world," Moore said, referring to major producers of the precious metal, "but the 4-5 million ounces of gold they bring to the market every year pales in comparison to the conquests available in space."
Scientists say commercial production of asteroid-based models could take some 50 years to prepare, with another quarter century required before that to get the 'proof of concept' right.
In the meantime, according to Moore, preparations for space mining are "already happening" today "from an investment perspective," with the "entire global space market…worth hundreds of billions already." This market is expected to pick up in the coming decades as the prospect of space-based mining moves from theory to actual technological feasibility.
Last month, in anticipation of what they expect will be a massive feeding frenzy of space mining activity in the coming decades, a group of astrophysicists proposed establishing a so-called "space-wilderness" covering over 85 per cent of the solar system, to shield planets, moons and other celestial bodies from indiscriminate mining and other forms of exploitation to prevent its resources from being exhausted.