2022 Mission to Asteroid With Nickel that Might Help Power 22nd Century

NASA plans to launch the Psyche mission to explore a metal-rock asteroid that is also called Psyche. The critical design review is done and construction has started. They plan to launch August 2022 on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy.

The asteroid Psyche is largely metallic iron and nickel. It is similar to Earth’s core and could have been a minor planet that lost its outer layers. Psyche is about 140 miles or 226 kilometers wide.

The $700 Quintillion (700 million trillion) value is based on today’s prices. Those prices would collapse if that much metal was brought back. Nickel is worth about $11,600 per ton in 2020. The world uses 2.3 million tons of nickel per year. This is a $25 billion per year market. Maybe we could use twenty times as much for $100 billion per year. Psyche has over 100 billion tons of nickel.

Electic cars use about 20-30 kilograms of nickel per module per car. A typical Tesla EV might have 14 modules. 350 kilograms of nickel per car. 100 million electric cars per year would need up to $500 billion per year of nickel. This would be if all new cars were electric. This would be 35 million tons of nickel. This could be triple if old cars were replaced faster and buses and trucks were electrified as well. There are currently 89 million tons in nickel reserves but there is plenty of nickel for new mines on earth if the demand is there. The Psyche nickel supply might come into play a century into an electrified global economy.

An electric vehicle (car, trucks, buses, planes) and electric storage for every building will require annual nickel supplies to scale up 100 times.

The Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) Chassis is being built at Maxar Technologies in Palo Alto, California, and should be done February 2021.

Psyche is set to launch in August 2022 and will fly by Mars for a gravity assist in May 2023 on its way to arrive at the asteroid in early 2026.

Psyche orbits the Sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter at a distance ranging from 235 million to 309 million miles (378 million to 497 million kilometers) from the Sun. That’s 2.5 to 3.3 Astronomical Units (AU), with 1 AU being the distance between Earth and the Sun.

The spacecraft will map and study 16 Psyche’s properties using a multispectral imager, a gamma ray and neutron spectrometer, a magnetometer, and a radio instrument (for gravity measurement) for 21 months or more.

SOURCES- NASA, Wikipedia
Written By Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com

43 thoughts on “2022 Mission to Asteroid With Nickel that Might Help Power 22nd Century”

  1. Just typing out 350 kg of nickel is something that requires:
    1.. Someone who just doesn’t, instinctively, know how much 350 kg is.
    2.. Someone who has never cut up batteries for fun.

  2. Good one! That did seem high. 350 kg is a third of a ton! At $11,600 a ton that would be $4,060!!!! 36 kg seems much more in the ball park. So take all of Brian’s numbers and divide by ten and that should put things in perspective.

  3. In order to own something, you would have to be able to enforce your claim over it, how exactly would you defend your claim of owning an asteroid in space? Anyone else could easily come along and start mining from it.

    The value of a natural resource doesn’t matter if there’s no way to extract those resources. I could buy 1000 acres of land in Colorado and say I have $200 million worth of natural resources because there might be minerals 3000ft deep in the ground, but I have no way of extracting those minerals, so they have no real value…

  4. If we’re talking 22nd century tech, why use either lightsails or solar cells on the spacecraft itself?

    You could easily have hundreds of square km of solar panels on the Moon, use them to power a laser, point the laser at a much smaller lightsail on the spacecraft.
    You get all of the advantages of both the lightsail and the ion engines, and you also get the advantage of not having to care how far you are from the Sun. Because lasers don’t spread out very much in empty space, you could have a laser on the Moon to propel a spacecraft beyond Saturn…

  5. Easier solution – bribe a few senators and judges to rule that you legally own the asteroid. Use its nominal capital value to borrow a trillion dollars and buy up a huge pile of rent-extracting companies that make money from doing essentially nothing. Call yourself the King of Psyche and live happily ever after while the world burns.

  6. ” the cost of extraction, making a thing useful and making a profit.” is obviously only possible on Earth. “space metal doesn’t matter to earth prices unless you can get it back more cheaply than terrestrial costs.” so only Earth price/use matters. “Refining is the energy side you make a point about.” yes, that is an expensive process, but it can only be done on Earth. “inside story on the actual amount of metal demand coming from the ISS.” yes, there is no use for anything, other than on Earth.

  7. My answer was spot on. Refining is the energy side you make a point about. As for the “ugly head of planetarianism”, rubbish. Made up rubbish. Last I checked you have to pay to get things into space. Does your processing facility and all that goes into it just spontaneously appear? You have to pay to get it back down to earth, unless you have some inside story on the actual amount of metal demand coming from the ISS.

  8. So, I’ve just had a brainstorm that the “dog and pony” focus should move from Space Solar Power to Power Beaming. Earth to Earth PB can start immediately, then use Moon to Moon PB to suport the various small lunar projects, from just a few collector fields/radars. The PB set up automatically handles intermittancy and load variability, as well as the obvious, distributed transmission. Go from there to any supply, small nuke or panels.
    Also, I realize I was using “ISRU” as a descriptor rather than a term, so should say: I remember *what we now call* “ISRU” as 70s’ O’Neill—he certainly had the idea! But I have never liked ISRU, as it literally means “use where exists”, where that will only be on a planet, or at an asteroid. I would love it if it meant In Space Resource Use, as that is exactly the idea, as for that use even Moon and Mars are “Space”. Just about anything not launched!

  9. Thanx for info, and especially past work! Your outlook reminds me of David Criswell’s (Just found out he died last year) answer to a question about being disappointed in progress of Lunar Solar Power. He said that many or even most of the needed things were being worked on anyway, and that was good progress. “Then it becomes an engineering and market problem to see what products to make first, and where to get the materials from.” It is finally starting!

  10. …general geologies on the Moon (Maria and Highlands), and three main types of asteroids (Metallic, Stony, and Carbonaceous). They are all different from each other due to their origins and histories. So a full range of space industry would want to exploit all those sources, since they are different “ores”

    Then it becomes an engineering and market problem to see what products to make first, and where to get the materials from.

  11. When I worked on the “Solar Power Satellite from Lunar Materials” study for the Space Studies Institute, we just called it “lunar materials”, not ISRU. The first study about tools building tools was “Advanced Automation for Space Missions” in 1980. O’Neill’s earlier work assumed large numbers of humans doing construction and farming in space. Additive manufacturing was only an idea in 1980. 3D printers didn’t exist yet, for that matter the IBM PC wasn’t until the following year.

    The AASM study laid out the requirements for an automated lunar “seed factory”, but computers and communications were nowhere near good enough at the time. So the idea was set aside for decades.

    Today computers are powerful enough, laser comms to the Moon has been tested at 600 Mbps, and we have virtual reality rigs that didn’t exist back then. So it is possible to have local computers on the Moon doing simple tasks, with remote control through VR for more complex stuff.

    NASA has got as far as taking water and oxygen production seriously, but they have not yet gotten serious about general industrial bootstrapping. That’s left to academics like Metzger and engineers like myself.

    Besides computers and comms, the other thing that has changed since the 1970s is we went from about 60 known Near Earth Asteroids to 21,500 and climbing fast. That means lots more low delta-V opportunities. We have also visited some of them, and are in the process of bringing back samples from two. There are two

  12. I remember “ISRU” as 70s’ O’Neill, a big part of “bootstrapping”, which includes tools building tools, and is highly advantaged by additive mfg, with the avoidance of launch costs being the project. Bringing anything back was further down the road. Seems like that would be more politically acceptable? And *official NASA* was ISRU on the Moon was evil, while ISRU on Mars is good and needed.

  13. The thought was triggered by the Delta-v concept, where more extreme cases start to favor lightsails. I’m going to trust the market solution on this level of concern. But the high temp water jet from direct solar mirrors sounds good.

  14. Lightsails are a rounding error in space transport. A square km of lightsail produces 8.4 Newtons, while a square km of solar cells can produce 11,600 Newtons. You can also point your electric engine in any direction.

    There’s enough water and carbon compounds in various asteroids to refuel.

  15. With a sufficiently low mass per unit area, you never get hot enough to burn things up. Starship will use ceramic tiles on the hot side, but at lower areal density you can use bare asteroid metal.

  16. ISRU is a “NASAism” to hide the fact they are talking about mining in space. Many congress members are throwbacks and wouldn’t fund such things. The companies that proposed doing asteroid mining didn’t depend on federal money, so they could be forthright about what they call it.

  17. It takes a million times less energy to send the description of a person at the atomic level to another star as to send their atoms. So the first people to travel interstellar will likely go at the speed of light.

    We can already scan things at an atomic level with atomic force microscopes. What we lack is an atomic scale 3D printer,

    Artificial intelligences will probably go before people. Being digital, they are much easier to transmit. Of course, you need a receiver at the other end, and that will have to travel the hard way.

    (The story references the 22nd century, so you need to account for new technology by then).

  18. Or maybe shaping large hollow balls of metal “foam” with a bit of ablative material on a slightly heavier side, and aiming them at the ocean.

  19. Really? What about wire for additive mfg. Should be able to produce in Space, perhaps with exotic 0 g alloys. Bring that back, or use in Space. I don’t see raw asteroid as quite ready to sell!

  20. In this case, the asteroids are metallic nickel iron, not an oxide or sulphide ore.
    So getting it back to Earth IS the big processing effort that will determine price.

  21. If you are not in a hurry, it is hard to beat light sails. Also, the merits of nuke v impactor death were discussed in an earlier post, “Would Space colonization be Good or Bad?”

  22. And futhermore, you cannot just allow the reentry burn to distribute random chemicals and elements into the upper atmos! Coating with frozen Argon has been proposed to take the big heat.

  23. “If you want to be the space mining trillionaire, figure out how to get that rock back to earth in a low cost fashion.” Not to disagree with Adam, being libertarian, but your last sentence shows the ugly head of planetarianism. Getting the stuff to the Earth only impacts the scarcity issue! As you say, it is the processing effort, which is usually but NOT always approx equal to the energy required, that combines with scarcity to determine *price*. Once in Space, energy is easy, cranes are small cables, alloys can be mixed, on and on. O’Neill points these things out. So don’t just say we do these on Earth. It is the wrong place, a planet.

  24. That’s not 80% of the battery. That’s 80% of the cathode.

    The cathode is only a small fraction of the total battery weight.
    The internet seems remarkably reluctant to give me the actual cathode or nickel weight, but it does reveal that

    Nickel-Manganese-Cobalt ratio of 8:1:1…

    Tesla’s first Model S consumed on average 11kg of cobalt per vehicle. Today, using a fixed pack size for a more accurate comparison, Tesla’s Model 3 consumes 4.5kg per vehicle.

    So, if the ratio of Nickel to Cobalt is 8:1, and the total amount of cobalt is 4.5kg per vehicle, that means the total amount of Nickel is 4.5*8 equals

    36kg of Nickel per vehicle.

    I’ll admit that the original link you posted, and that Brian linked, was super cagey about hiding the fact that it was cathode only, printed in not just fine print, but also a colour that didn’t stand out against the background. So Brian probably made the same mistake.

  25. For the interstellar stuff, we probably won’t be using metal anyway (except maybe for some early probes). Carbon is much more useful and more abundant.

  26. Going to change your name to Captain Harlock? Or perhaps Mark Watney? (Who was, by a very creative interpretation of maritime law, ‘hijacking a vessel without permission in international waters… on Mars.) 😉 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_space_pirates

    (From the article… “Other analysts have argued that he technically wasn’t committing an act of piracy, however, due to the facts that 1 – it has not yet been explicitly established if the same laws for international waters apply to international territory such as Mars or Antarctica, 2 – “Piracy” explicitly refers to robbery by force from a manned crew, not “theft” of an unmanned vessel as Watney did, and 3 – under space law, the vessel Watney was stealing would be considered U.S. territory and NASA property, and Watney was already a U.S. NASA astronaut.[4]”

  27. I think the key to thinking about this that, except winged Shuttle shape, we have only had small, heavy/dense capsules to bring down, which also had to be light enuf to launch. Musk SS will keep his second stage fuel tanks, so is coming down with far less dense mass content, which makes more surface area per weight to dissipate heat and slow down better, probably able to stay higher longer by kiting in, like Shuttle. But if we are not first launching what we bring down, we can make any kind of *entry* shape we want. NASA is checking out large inflatable pads, for example. Even heat shields could be useful product. The important thing is that it is easy, compared to the normal effort needed to change speed in Space. “slam into the ground” sounds bad for anything but solid metal ingots, but perhaps hitting shallow water with bubbles in it would be softer. Water without bubbles is harder than almost anything at high speeds.

  28. When we are ready to build an interstellar empire Psyche will be there waiting for us. We won’t need it until then. Lots of smaller chunks of metals flying all around the place. Plus there is the moon.

  29. Personally I always thought they should just let the payloads fall, target the middle of a desert and let it slam into the ground, it’s metal so it’s not like it can be hurt, you wouldn’t even need heatshields.

  30. It is not a given that metal prices would collapse if all $700 quintillion were brought back to earth. Read Adam Smith. It’s not scarcity that drives prices like many think; it’s the cost of extraction, making a thing useful and making a profit. Silica is over 25% of the earth’s crust. Petroleum makes up far less than 1% of the earth’s crust. Silica is more expensive per ton than petroleum. Oil is pretty much ready to go, just heat and separate. So, all that space metal doesn’t matter to earth prices unless you can get it back more cheaply than terrestrial costs. If you want to be the space mining trillionaire, figure out how to get that rock back to earth in a low cost fashion.

    Organize a group of people to mine an asteroid, and use the profits to create a pirate ship out of the remains of the asteroid, in order to terrorize Earthlings with my mighty, mighty asteroid pirate ship by pulling up in LEO then throw rocks at the surface.

  32. ISRU, In Space Resource Use, aka In Situ Resource Use, is the name for using the resources there, Space, instead of launching the material from Earth. Seems obvious, but many object to the added time to set the mines and processors up, and want *their* project NOW. As to bringing stuff back from Space, it is not too bad, as the atmosphere can drain speed before landing, unlike Moon for contrast, which requires rocket firing. The value of the material will be important consideration. Another topic is building things that can ONLY be done in 0 g. Making better fiber optics lines, many experiments, are already being being planned.

  33. Always interested in how mineral-/ compound-rich asteroids could best be exploited – remove raw in-situ, process and/or fabricate in-situ, tow to centralized asteroid-processing facility, tow to cis-Lunar system, blow up and bag/drag it. Also, I believe that there is a current database that shows the ‘anticipated content’ of ‘valuable’ asteroids for the closest few k of them with estimated access/orbit logistics. Let the Wild West ‘rush’ begin.

  34. The one who dominates deltaV wins…
    Next exercise is to calculate an economical value for space based deltaV. With a proper calculation, I guess a new startup “DeltaV inc.” would attract a huge amount of investment. The possibilities are endless. Raw materials, energy, science, exploration, military…

    What’s the value of the strategic nuclear arsenal? It can be replaced by kinetic impactors. Any modern country could probably afford it if deltaV could be purchased.

  35. How about using the asteroid for manufacturing in space? Getting the material down to earth will always be very expensive in terms of energy. But if you want to build structures in space, it should be much more cost effective to use materials that are already there..?

  36. There’s more than just nickel-iron. Platinum group metals tag along with nickel-copper mixes associated with asteroid strikes upon the Earth. Sudbury in Canada has been a mining operation since 1860’s. Wouldn’t be surprised to find other precious metals or actinides in the mix.

  37. While this is scientifically interesting, just a few million tons from a NEO would be of practical interest a lot sooner. We do not need astronomical amounts or nothing.

  38. I’ve always been fascinated by 16 Psyche, which is the asteroid in question. A (nearly) naked nickel-iron core floating in space ought to be a unique view. As for simply going in and strip-mining it to make EVs, I’m not particularly excited for that, but it will probably be several decades before it is economically viable in any case.

  39. Electic cars use about 20-30 kilograms of nickel per module per car. A typical Tesla EV might have 14 modules. 350 kilograms of nickel per car

    You might want to recheck those figures. That sounds a mite high to me.

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