It has been an exciting year for AstroForge! We came together on the promise to push boundaries, and 2023 has pushed that bar even higher with the successful launch and ongoing operations of our first mission of Brokkr-1, completion of our in-house designed, built and fully qualified imagers for mission 2, and a successful hot fire test of our deep space flight spacecraft. We expect 2024 to be as full of challenges - and opportunities - as 2023. Here's where we are, and what's next.
Mission 1 Update
The Brokkr-1 refinery demonstration mission successfully launched on April 15, 2023, with the goal of validating AstroForge's full-system engineering team, flight-testing critical subsystems in preparation for deep space, and, finally, extracting platinum from an asteroid simulant. Of course, no project as ambitious as asteroid mining is without its challenges and lessons learned.
After nominal separation from the launch vehicle, it proved difficult to quickly identify our satellite amongst the 50+ satellites deployed on the same launch from a single ground station. Over the next few weeks, through our own network and introductions made by our investor and advisory board, we rapidly connected with space companies who had ground assets to help in identifying our satellite.
We achieved our first positive signal on May 5, 2023! Telemetry verified the vehicle was in a healthy state.
Closing the command link to deploy the solar arrays would take longer. Our spacecraft was designed to actively control the attitude (orientation) of our vehicle such that the deployed arrays would point at the Sun to maximize power for our refinery, and our command and telemetry antenna, located on the opposite side, would point at Earth.
During final integration and testing with OrbAstro, we identified that the magnetic field generated by our refinery system prevented the satellite’s ability to actively orient the satellite. We decided to proceed forward as-is, fully understanding the risk that our satellite would now be passively stabilized in a wobble, eventually settling in an orientation where we lose communication. The alternative was to redesign the refinery and delay the mission at least nine months to the next available launch date and forfeit the launch cost. With an impeded ability for orientation control due to the payload’s magnetic field, the high gain patch antennas used for telemetry and command meant we had a lower chance of alignment between onboard antennas and ground station. To mitigate the lower communication link margin, OrbAstro burned the midnight oil with us to incorporate an extra omnidirectional antenna so we could at least downlink the health status of the satellite. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, the addition of an omnidirectional uplink antenna was not possible. It was high-risk but even with the decreased communication link margin due to the wobble, we could still complete the demonstration as long as the panels were deployed. However, our analysis and planning did not account for how long it would take to identify our satellite.
After identifying the satellite, over the next couple months we received numerous nominal health packets which was a great sign, deploying the solar panels was proving difficult. To accelerate things, we needed more ground station passes. So in July 2023, we decided to contract, license, and commission another ground station. This process can take up to a full year; we did it in three months. In that time, we also brought the mission operations in-house, with the AstroForge team taking on the primary operator roles.
On September 2, 2023, the solar arrays were successfully deployed. And on November 8, 2023, satellite commissioning and checkouts were completed, and we moved into the initial refinery baseline functional testing and demonstration.
Now it’s a race against time to complete the refinery checkouts and demonstrations before the satellite stabilizes and we lose the ability to command completely. We estimate that to be in another three months.
In summary, the TL;DR:
Demo missions like Brokkr-1 are like the months of practice leading up to a big game. In our case, Brokkr-1 was the practice and the big game is our upcoming deep space mission. Throughout the Brokkr-1 mission we identified our weak spots both technically and operationally and have taken significant steps in mitigating those for our upcoming mission 2.
AstroForge works under the philosophy to test fast and test often. There are risks associated with this approach but there is also tremendous value in getting real flight experience and heritage for the team and the vehicle. Our team and partners have already incorporated the learnings from this mission to our upcoming deep space mission including the following:
We’re thankful for all the hard work our team and our partners have put in thus far to get to this point and we’re looking forward to completing the upcoming mission milestones before time runs out. We’re excited for the challenge!
Mission 2 - Same Mission, New Name
The objective of Mission 2 remains the same: get to deep space, perform a flyby of the asteroid target, and take high resolution images of the surface. It’s important to note that meeting just one of these objectives would be a groundbreaking achievement not just for AstroForge but for commercial space at-large.
To capture the significance of this mission’s objectives and values more accurately, we have decided to rename the spacecraft to Odin. Odin, a Norse mythological figure, is known for being a relentless seeker of knowledge and wisdom and a father to other gods in Norse mythology. Like Odin in mythology, the Odin spacecraft will be the first commercial vehicle to venture into deep space - a precursor to all our future deep space vehicles and missions - and will help further our knowledge and understanding of the beyond, and more specifically, our target asteroid.
To date, the Odin spacecraft has gone through a successful hot fire test of the propulsion system. Additionally, the in-house designed and built payload imagers that will be used to image the surface of the asteroid have completed qualification testing and are currently getting integrated onto the spacecraft bus along with the rest of the components in preparation for full vehicle checkouts. It will go into environmental testing and arrive back to our facilities before the end of the year where it will undergo extended testing while we await our launch as a lunar rideshare slot in 2024 on the Intuitive Machines IM-2 mission.
A Peek Into Next Year
Besides our ongoing work on missions 1 and 2, we are actively working on our next revisions to our refinery. So far, these revisions are yielding very promising results, greatly reducing the power necessary to refine material into platinum group metals and addressing the magnetic field issue identified on mission 1. Meanwhile, mission 3 planning, design, and prototypes are being tested and we will release more on that soon.
A big thank you to all our investors, partners, advisors, families, and fans for all your continued support and unwavering belief in AstroForge’s vision to provide off-planet resources for the benefit of humanity. We hope your year has been as exciting (and insightful) as ours, and we look forward to the upcoming year when we become the first commercial company to venture into deep space.