'We’re Running Out of Ore on Earth': Astroforge Targets April for Test Asteroid Refining Mission

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

'We’re Running Out of Ore on Earth': Astroforge Targets April for Test Asteroid Refining Mission
Photo: Astroforge

One of the most-used elements in industrial work on Earth is disappearing.

Popular for industrial use because of its resistance to corrosion and heat, platinum sells for over $1,000 an ounce and is in everything from wedding bands to medical devices to a number of auto parts.

And retrieving what little of the element does remain, will only exacerbate the ongoing climate crisis – resource extraction was the source of half the world’s carbon emissions and 80% of its biodiversity loss in 2019 and that number has likely only risen.

The problem’s been known for awhile; back in 2016 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology predicted demand would outpace supply of platinum and palladium. At that time, the college estimated we’d run out of platinum by 2050, a mere 27 years from now.

There’s also the issue that what platinum remains is in the hands of powers adversarial to the U.S.

Russia accounts for up to 30% of the world’s palladium supply, and up to 10% of its platinum, and its war in Ukraine has pushed export prices higher. MIT also estimated that China, another stockpiler of industrial metals, could stop selling its platinum stores to the greater globe as soon as 2034.

So what is there to do?

The answer could lie thousands of miles from our planet, in deep space, according to Astroforge CEO and former Virgin Orbit veteran Matt Gialich. Gialich is certain that in the near future, it’ll be commonplace for companies to operate refineries in space that can sort and send back elements crucial for construction on earth.

“We know that these concentrations are super high in space,” Gialich said. He said Astroforge is starting with platinum metals, but it does have “a future roadmap that’s much, much bigger than that,” but wouldn’t share more about what other materials the company hopes to mine in space. It’s reminiscent of the old California Gold Rush – the minute you tell someone there’s platinum in them there asteroids, others with means will want to rush in first.

Astroforge is developing technology to mine and refine minerals in deep space. The company will face a vital test in its mission to mine asteroids for minerals this April, when it tests its in-space refinery technology for the first time.

In particular, Astroforge is looking at retrieving palladium and platinum from asteroids. The shrinking store of these metals makes it easier to understand why going to space to mine more might not be such a far-fetched plan.

Gialich pointed out the emissions problem and noted, “part of that is platinum group mining… not all, but a big part of it. When it comes to mining metals, there’s just no way to solve that; you can do things to reduce it, but we’re running out of ore on the earth as we continuously mine.”

He noted that a while ago, it wasn’t feasible to undertake these sorts of missions, but said that mission price continues to drop as more companies enter the private space race and offer rideshare missions for lower and lower costs.

“As we continue to run out of ore and as access to space becomes cheaper, we think we're actually past the inflection point of when this makes more economic sense to do,” Gialich said.

But, it’ll take a lot of cash and crafty partnerships – NASA spent $800 million to retrieve only 60 grams during a similar project. Two other space mining firms, Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, were bought out before reaching their goals. This is why Astroforge raised $13 million in May, but it’ll likely need much more than that for future missions and anticipates future fundraises. Gialich wouldn’t disclose if Astroforge has any customers signed up for future missions or to buy space ore yet.

This upcoming mission in April will see Astroforge’s small in-orbit refinery hitch a ride to space on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, in partnership with British small satellite launcher OrbAstro. The plan is to test the refinery capabilities in space first by supplying the refinery with an “asteroid-like material” (so, a rock, but not an asteroid) that the tech will then vaporize and sort into its elemental components while in orbit. It’s a vital test of if the refinery can function in space, and if all succeeds, a critical part towards Gialich’s overall mission – becoming the first company to successfully mine asteroids.

“We have gone to asteroids before,” Gialich said. “We've landed on them, we've taken samples from them, we’ve done every step of the way, scientifically, multiple times. We just haven’t added that refining piece in, but that is actually very simple. You can prove that out on Earth, there’s not a big difference [in space].”

And Gialich really, really wants to be first. After all, whoever is,will have their pick of lucrative contracts as other private and public players rush in to gather up their share of the valuable asteroid minerals. NASA is leading a mission to explore an asteroid that some have joked could be worth $10 quintillion.

“We’re going to be the first commercial company to explore that frontier,” he promised. “There’s enough space out there for a ton of companies to exist and be successful. We’re still going to do it first.”

That, of course, remains to be seen. The SpaceX launch doesn’t yet have a window open. But when it does, it’ll be a crucial test of Astroforge’s system. And, it could eventually lead to an overhaul of our centuries-old mining system that might very well one day help the planet. At least, that’s Gialich’s overall goal.

“We’re going to save the planet, and to save the planet we need to have big, audacious ideas that really solve a critical problem we have on Earth, and we have a resource problem on Earth,” Gialich said. “Now that we’re a globalized world, there’s nowhere else to grow. There’s not an option here, this has to be done.”


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Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

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‘Expand Past the Stage’: How These LA-based Ticketing Platforms are Using The Metaverse to Take On Ticketmaster

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Andria is the Social and Engagement Editor for dot.LA. She previously covered internet trends and pop culture for BuzzFeed, and has written for Insider, The Washington Post and the Motion Picture Association. She obtained her bachelor's in journalism from Auburn University and an M.S. in digital audience strategy from Arizona State University. In her free time, Andria can be found roaming LA's incredible food scene or lounging at the beach.

‘Expand Past the Stage’: How These LA-based Ticketing Platforms are Using The Metaverse to Take On Ticketmaster
Evan Xie

When Taylor Swift announced her ‘Eras’ tour back in November, all hell broke loose.

Hundreds of thousands of dedicated Swifties — many of whom were verified for the presale — were disappointed when Ticketmaster failed to secure them tickets, or even allow them to peruse ticketing options.

But the Taylor Swift fiasco is just one of the latest in a long line of complaints against the ticketing behemoth. Ticketmaster has dominated the event and concert space since its merger with Live Nation in 2010 with very few challengers — until now.

Adam Jones, founder and CEO of Token, a fan-first commerce platform for events, said he has the platform and the tech ready to take it on. With Token, Jones is creating a system where there are no queues. In other words, fans know immediately which events are sold out and where.

“We come in very fortunate to have a modern, scalable tech stack that's not going to have all these outages or things being down,” Jones said. “That's step one. The other thing is we’re being aggressively transparent about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. So with the Taylor Swift thing…you would know in real time if you actually have a chance of getting the tickets.”

Here’s how it works: Users register for Token’s app and then purchase tickets to either an in-person event, or an event in the metaverse through Animal Concerts. The purchased ticket automatically shows up in the form of a mintable NFT, which can then be used toward merchandise purchases, other ticketed events or, Adams’s hope for the future — external rewards like airline travel. The more active a user is on the site, the more valuable their NFT becomes.

Ticketmaster has dominated the music industry for so long because of its association with big name artists. To compete, Token is working on gaining access to their own slew of popular artists. They recently entered into a partnership with Animal Concerts, a live and non-live event experiences platform that houses artists like Alicia Keys, Snoop Dogg and Robin Thicke.

“You'll see they do all the metaverse side of the house,” Jones said. “And we're going to be the [real-life] web3 sides of the house.”

In addition, Token prides itself on working with the artists selling on their platform to set up the best system for their fanbase, devoid of hefty prices and additional fees — something Ticketmaster users have often complained about. Jones believes where Ticketmaster fails, Token thrives. The app incentivizes users to share more data about their interests, venues and artists by operating on a kind of points system in the form of mintable NFTs.

“We can actually take the dataset and say there’s 100 million people in the globe that love Taylor Swift, so imagine she’s going on tour and we ask [the user], ‘Would you go to see her in Detroit?’ And imagine this place has 30,000 seats, but 100,000 people clicked ‘yes,’” he explained. “So you can actually inform the user before anything even happens, right? About what their options are and where to get it.”

Tixr, a Santa-Monica based ticketing app, was founded on the idea that modern ticketing platforms were “living in the legacy of the past.” They plan to attract users by offering them exclusive access to ticketed events that aren’t in Ticketmaster’s registry.

“It melts commerce that's beyond ticketing…to allow fans to experience and purchase things that don't necessarily have to do with tickets,” said Tixr CEO and Founder Robert Davari. “So merchandise, and experiences, and hospitality and stuff like that are all elegantly melded into this one, content driven interface.”

Tixr sells tickets to exclusive concerts like a Tyga performance at a night club in Arizona, general in-person festivals like ComplexCon, and partners with local vendors like The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach to sell tickets to the races. Plus, Davari said it’s equipped to handle high-demand, so customers aren’t spending hours waiting in digital queues.

Like Token, Tixr has also found success with a rewards program — in the form of fan marketing.

“There's nothing more powerful in the core of any event, brand, any live entertainment, [than] the community behind it,” Davari said. “So we build technology to empower those fans and to reward them for bringing their friends and spreading the word.”

Basically, if a user gets a friend to purchase tickets to an event, then the original user gets rewarded in the form of discounts or upgrades.

Coupled with their platforms’ ability to handle high-demand events, both Jones and Davari believe their platforms have what it takes to take on Ticketmaster. Expansion into the metaverse, they think, will also help even the playing field.

“So imagine you can't go to Taylor Swift,” Jones said. “What if you could purchase an exclusive to actually go to that exact same show over the metaverse? An artist’s whole world can expand past the stage itself.”

With the way ticketing for events works now, obviously not everyone always gets the exact price, venue or date they want. There are “winners and losers.” Jones’s hope is that by expanding beyond in-person events, there can be more winners.

“If there’s 100,000 people who want to go to one show and there's 37,000 seats, 70,000 are out,” he said. “You can't fight that. But what we can do is start to give them other opportunities to do things in a different way and actually still participate.”

Jones and Davari both teased that their platforms have some exciting developments in the works, but for now both Token and Tixr are set on making their own space within the industry.

“We simply want to advance this industry and make it more efficient and more pleasurable for fans to buy,” Davari said. “That's it.”