Mining Asteroids to Supply the Space Economy

Mining Asteroids to Supply the Space Economy

Look up. Kilometers above our heads, something important is happening. It’s easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention, but as soon as you start thinking about it, you won’t be able to stop: Space is becoming an economic frontier.

Everyone knows about the Space Race. Two superpowers pushing their brightest minds and bravest astronauts to be the first to set foot on the moon. Since then, other nations have joined the fray. Europe, China, India, and Japan run ambitious space programs and more and more governments are gearing up to compete in the next lap of the race: establishing permanent moon bases and sending astronauts to Mars.

Countless movies, series, and books document this epic drama, but the story they don’t tell is that space has become big business. Reusable rockets enable customers to send equipment into orbit quickly and reliably. Communications satellites stitch together the invisible networks that let us message friends, stream Taylor Swift, and scroll endless feeds. Earth observation satellites enable us to monitor rainforests, improve crop yields, and use Google Maps to find that new dumpling joint everyone is talking about. Militaries and intelligence services are developing space assets and the capabilities to protect them. An expanding cadre of breakout companies operate, support, and maintain these vast satellite constellations. And it’s not just satellites. Space startups are building rovers to support the slate of new lunar missions and partnering with biotech companies to manufacture drugs in microgravity.

But despite this apparent momentum, the space economy has a problem.


Here on Earth, we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well. Imagine a steep, slippery staircase spiraling up that well. Now imagine climbing it lugging a big bucket of water in each hand. By the time you get to the top, you’re exhausted, sweaty, and resentful. Just so, it takes an enormous amount of energy to get from our planet’s surface to orbit and beyond. For reference, SpaceX recently burned ~2,650,000 liters of fuel per second to launch three astronauts to the International Space Station.

Gravity means that launching anything from Earth to space requires a lot of energy, which costs a lot of money and causes a lot of environmental damage. Everything going on in space right now must be sufficiently valuable to justify paying these extraordinary costs.

But what if gravity wasn’t an issue? What if you weren’t limited by launch vehicles’ severe volume and mass constraints? What if it was cheap to build things in space? What kind of future might humanity invent for itself?

We started Karman+ to find out.

To understand what we’re up to, you have to go back 4.5 billion years to the birth of our solar system. A dense cloud of interstellar gas and dust collapsed into itself, and the sun was born. Farther out from the center, more dust agglomerated into planets and moons. What was left clustered into the loose clumps of material we call asteroids, which are not exotic artifacts, but contain the same elemental building blocks we use to make things here on Earth.

Compared to Earth, the moon is small, so its gravity well is much easier to climb. Compared to the moon, most asteroids are so tiny that while they technically have gravity, it would be stretching the metaphor to the breaking point to call it a well. It’s more useful to think of them floating in free space around the solar system. That’s why it takes less energy to bring asteroid material to Earth orbit than to bring material from Earth to orbit. You don’t need a huge rocket. You just need a push in the right direction.

Right now, humans mine the Earth for raw material, transform that material into products, and launch those products into space. But asteroids contain more raw material than humanity has harvested in its entire history, and that material is drifting in free space waiting to be put to use.

Here at Karman+, we are going to mine asteroids for raw material so that you can use it right there in space without needing to launch it up a gravity well.

Our first mission departs in 2026. The goal is to demonstrate mining capabilities and establish a baseline for scaling up future missions. After a ride-share launch and an autonomous deep-space cruise, our spacecraft will rendezvous with the target asteroid, characterizing and excavating material. Subsequent missions will return material to Earth orbit.

We’re a startup, not a space agency. NASA asteroid missions are complex, bespoke projects that cost billions of dollars. Because we are leveraging existing technology to pursue a simple objective across multiple missions that build on each other, Karman+ asteroid missions cost less than $20 million per mission. How do we do it? Instead of developing custom avionics, we modify off-the-shelf equipment for our specific use-case. Instead of being remotely piloted by a small army of engineers on the ground, our spacecraft uses optical navigation to cruise autonomously. Instead of spending years identifying and analyzing one specific asteroid, we operate probabilistically by targeting unknown objects that fit a certain statistical profile. This approach yields a 1,000x reduction of the cost/kilogram of asteroid material, enabling us to supply commercial quantities of consumables and raw inputs to cislunar space and Earth orbit at a price point 10x cheaper than launching them from the surface.

Unlike mining Earth, mining asteroids creates no environmental impact on our home planet—no clear-cut forests, no razed wetlands, no toxic tailings. Plus, orbital manufacturing doesn’t pollute our air or poison our water. There is no better place for heavy industry than outside the biosphere.

We want to make it cheaper and cleaner to make things in orbit than to launch them to orbit. For now, these will be relatively simple things like water, fuel, structural components, and radiation shielding to supply satellites, vehicles, and facilities. But just as cheap electricity did a whole lot more than replace candles for residential lighting, over the long-term, cheap asteroid material will make new industries possible: from microgravity semiconductor fabrication to solar-power satellites that beam down carbon-free energy to supply Earthbound grids.

If that sounds like science fiction, remember that iPhones, air travel, and ChatGPT all sounded like science fiction not so very long ago. The future is not a destination. The future is the world we build with the choices we make every single day.

That’s why we need your help.

Karman+ will mine asteroids to supply affordable natural resources in space. But just like terrestrial mining companies, we will produce commodities. Our greatest aspiration is to become part of the infrastructure you take for granted as you figure out how to put those commodities to productive use—how to make things people want.

So no matter who you are or what you do or where you live on our tiny blue dot of a planet, imagine what the emerging space economy might grow into, what new paths this high frontier makes possible.

And don’t stop there.

Ask yourself what it might take to realize that dream, where to start, whom to recruit. And then, instead of letting your idea fade with the memory of reading this sentence, do it. Take the first step, and the next one, and the next, until one day you glance back over your shoulder and discover that, to your surprise, you’ve blazed a trail.

And here’s the thing about blazing trails: you show others how to get from here to there, and soon the path is worn smooth by the passing of many feet.

So aim high—higher than the Kármán line—and together we can develop new possibilities for civilization.