NASA Cancels Plans to Visit $700 Quintillion Asteroid

Written By Luke Burgess

Posted July 19, 2023

In future space missions, brave men and women will embark on thrilling adventures to asteroids, seeking to mine the incredible wealth of materials they carry through the vastness of space. 

But even with the most recent technological advances today, space mining will likely remain uneconomical for decades to come.

spaceminingImage Credit: Deep Space Industries

Back in 2014, NASA made a decision to take a closer look at 16 Psyche, an enormous asteroid discovered in 1852.

This mysterious space rock, which orbits between Mars and Jupiter, was believed to hold an astonishing $700 quintillion worth of valuable materials including iron, nickel, and gold.

The mission to explore the asteroid was approved in 2017, and, after a delay, it was set to launch in October of this year. However, as NASA announced a few days ago, it has canceled its plans, deeming the asteroid "inaccessible."

Although space mining doesn’t exist as an industry yet, the idea of mining in outer space has fascinated dreamers for over 100 years.


The very first mention of mining asteroids in space comes from an obscure sci-fi novel from 1898 called Edison's Conquest of Mars, written by Garrett P. Serviss. The main characters in the story — which, yes, include the Thomas Edison — stumble upon aliens mining an asteroid made entirely of solid gold. 

The concept of space mining has since continued to inspire storytellers, from classic authors like Isaac Asimov and Richard Heinlein to modern writers like Andy Weir and James S. A. Corey. Hollywood films like Avatar and the Alien series have envisioned asteroid and moon mining as exciting plot devices, as have thousands of video games and other media.

More recently, some have speculated that the idea of space mining could become a part of our future reality. 

Yet while the notion of exploring space and tapping into its valuable resources sounds thrilling, at the end of the day, off-Earth mining is likely decades away from becoming a reality.

The most significant challenge is the economics. Launching missions beyond Earth is extremely expensive, and, as much as we have made progress in space technology and reduced launch costs, the expense of mining in space remains astronomical.

Until very recently, the cost of sending just 1 pound of material into orbit exceeded $5,000.

SpaceX’s website says it costs "as low as" $275,000 to put 50 kilograms into sun-synchronous orbit (SSO).


And that’s a one-way trip that doesn’t get us anywhere near a minable asteroid.

SSO is between 350 and 500 miles in altitude. The asteroid NASA was considering, 16 Psyche, is between 139 million and 214 million miles from the Earth, depending on the moment — and that’s considered a “near-Earth asteroid.”

Then there are the human and labor costs to consider. Astronauts and space engineers with the expertise to conduct mining operations in space are highly limited. As of today, NASA only has a total of 41 “active” astronauts, all of whom would need to be trained to overcome the inevitable logistical hurdles that will come with mining in outer space.

And that’s not to mention a manned space mining mission would take several years, compared with the average NASA mission, which lasts about six months. Who is going to want to leave the Earth for years to mine an asteroid? How much would you have to pay them?

Who’s going to provide insurance for this venture?

Moreover, who’s going to finance a space mining venture right now with ROI that’s guaranteed years to decades away?

It cost NASA $50 million to build the Janus probes that were planned to be sent to 16 Psyche, and they were designed just to take a look!

Don’t get me wrong I do believe humans will be mining in space one day, but for now it’s clear that the dream of space mining remains a distant one. Despite recent reductions in launch prices, the economic realities of space mining suggest it will likely remain uneconomical for years to come.