NASA to launch mission to Psyche asteroid worth $10 quintillion

18 Jan 2017

Artist’s conception of Psyche spacecraft. Image: SSL/ASU/P. Rubin/NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA has big plans for the coming decade, but its aim to at least observe an asteroid dubbed 16 Psyche, worth an estimated $10 quintillion, has some people licking their lips.

A future where asteroids are mined for precious minerals is not a new concept anymore, as companies like Planetary Resources have shown that there is a serious business model to be gained from tapping the vast, vast resource that is space.

But when NASA announced earlier this month that it was to send two spacecraft called Lucy and Psyche to observe two of Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, little was said of the economic potential of these enormous chunks of space debris.

The latter of the missions to asteroid 16 Psyche, NASA said, was targeted to launch in October of 2023, arriving at the asteroid in 2030, where it would observe the object with a diameter of over 200km.

To add greater scientific purpose of the mission, NASA believes that the peculiar 16 Psyche could be the remnants of a lost planet’s core.

Speaking to Global News in Canada, the mission’s lead scientist, Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University, said that 16 Psyche in particular is a very strange object in the cosmos.

A giant chunk of precious metals

Based on what her team estimates, the asteroid is a literal treasure trove of metals, mostly containing iron and nickel, but also potentially a number of rare minerals like gold, platinum and cobalt.

Based on the amount of iron alone in such an enormous object, Elkins-Tanton has estimated that it would be worth as much as $10 quintillion to anyone who could return it to Earth.

However, realising the enormity of such a task, she added that this is certainly not the intention of the NASA mission, and would unlikely to be the intention of even the most ardent speculator.

Many question marks remain

“Even if we could grab a big metal piece and drag it back here … what would you do?” she asked.

“Could you kind of sit on it and hide it and control the global resource – kind of like diamonds are controlled corporately – and protect your market? What if you decided you were going to bring it back and you were just going to solve the metal resource problems of humankind for all time? This is wild speculation, obviously.”

The other issue to bear in mind before anyone decides to embark on such a mission is that its value would be so many multiples of value of the global economy, that its introduction would inevitably cause the globe’s entire economy to collapse.

However, as Planetary Resources said in conversation with, 16 Psyche could be used as a gas station in space where potential water contained within it could refuel spacecraft on interstellar journeys.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic