SpaceX, Blue Origin and Asteroid Mining

SpaceX and Blue Origin are private space exploration companies in the US which manufacture and fly spacecraft. SpaceX was founded in Blue Origin in 2000 by Jeff Bezos and 2002 by Elon Musk. Both these companies are vital for asteroid mining because one of their main aims is to reduce the price of taking equipment into space.

The Space Shuttle program cost $60,000 per kilogram to get the spacecraft from sea level to low earth orbit (LEO) in today’s dollars. This is extremely expensive, which led to the whole program being shut down.

Both SpaceX and Blue Origin are following a very similar business and development plan as they try to reduce launch costs. This plan is to build a super heavy-lift launch vehicle capable of taking over 45 tonnes to low earth orbit. Building the super heavy-lift vehicle is a smart decision because as the size and mass of a rocket increases the cost per kg goes down.

The Two Falcon Heavy Side Boosters Landing
The Two Falcon Heavy Side Boosters Landing – Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket costs $784 per kg to LEO. That is approaching two orders of magnitude less per kg than the Space Shuttle. SpaceX is currently developing the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) which is said to be capable of carrying a payload of 150 tones to LEO at a cost of $7M which equates to $50 per kg.  

Blue Origin’s New Shepard cost per kg is currently unknown. Blue Origin’s New Glenn currently in development will be capable or taking over 45 tonnes to LEO and the company, this year, signed a contract for ten launches with Telesat. Blue Origin has not yet released the cost of the spacecraft however it is clear they are not far behind SpaceX.

SpaceX are currently winning the space race against Blue Origin and other companies such as, Lockheed Martin. With this competition comes greater innovation from all the companies which helps drives down the cost per kg of launching equipment into space. Asteroid mining spacecraft will eventually be extremely large and currently the BFR is the best option with a cost of $50 per kg to LEO. The BFR’s ability to refuel in orbit allows an asteroid mining spacecraft to be as heavy as 100 tonnes because the BFR would use all its fuel to carry the payload to LEO and from there another BFR could be launched to refuel the first BFR rocket.

The cheaper the cost to orbit the better for asteroid mining for two reasons. First because it is cheaper for the industry to get equipment into orbit. Secondly, with cheaper launch costs comes greater interest and therefore investment into space.  This in turn will open the asteroid mining industry to sell the mined materials to companies working and manufacturing in space.

The future is very exciting. Both SpaceX and Blue Origin have come a long way and they are both striving to bring down launch costs which is a huge benefit for the asteroid mining industry, both directly and indirectly. If BFR’s development stays on track it should be ready to take large asteroid mining spacecraft into orbit in the not too distant future.