A gigantic asteroid moving between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter is composed of such a quantity of precious metals that if they were brought to Earth the world economy would risk a total collapse. NASA plans to reach the asteroid by 2026. Psyche 16 is one of the largest asteroids in the main belt, measuring about 250 kilometres in diameter and has been known since 1852 thanks to the Italian astronomer Annibale De Gasparis, but only recently its enormous economic potential been assessed. The celestial body is made up for the most part of solid metals: gold, platinum, nickel and iron in quantities so high as to make any terrestrial deposit pale. NASA's Discovery mission will start in 2022 (potentially summer) and it's expected to reach Psyche 16 in 2026.
What is the purpose? The scientists explain this asteroid is the result of violent collisions between planets when the solar system was forming, and could tell us many things about the structure of the Earth's core. You have understood correctly: the American space agency swears that the operation will have only scientific purposes, and does not foresee any mining exploitation. Whether it's true or not, even if the American intentions are good with no strings attached, the gold rush of space has already started. And if Psyche 16 can become the new California, in the asteroid belt there are other extraction opportunities much closer to Earth. Even our moon contains gold, platinum and rare metals. Science fiction? No: since 2015, in fact, it's legal to own one or more asteroids, and there are already space mining companies that scrutinize the sky in search of wealth. Two of them, Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources, are targeting the asteroid UW158, twice the size of the Tower of London, with an estimated value of 5.7 trillion USD. Experts argue that 50 more years will have to pass before seeing a profitable mining activity in space, but to accelerate the time it could be the need to excel in a race that already sees the United States, China and Japan in pole position today, and the small Luxembourg which has already registered 10 space mining companies.