The Asteroid 16 Psyche is Worth $700 Quintillion. Here’s Why it Won’t Make us any Richer.

16 Psyche is not only one of the biggest asteroids in the asteroid belt. It is made almost purely of metal, including vast quantities of gold, silver and platinum.

This is why NASA plans to send a satellite there in 2022 and 2026 to do some research on the asteroid and possibly mine its minerals, worth, by some estimates, up to US$700 quintillion — that's 7 followed by twenty zeroes! This would be enough to give US$92 billion to every person on the planet.

But before you go off to make your own space company, you should know that it probably won’t make us any richer. The reason comes down to basic economics. Gold, silver, platinum — all these metals are valuable simply because they are scarce. Gold is not as easy to obtain as other metals like iron or copper. Its high price reflects its relative scarcity. As Investopedia puts it:

The metal is abundant enough to create coins but rare enough so that not everyone can produce them.

So, by flooding Earth with 16 Psyche’s vast quantities of gold, we would inevitably cause the price of gold to plummet, making it as cheap as iron and copper (if not cheaper).

So, would mining 16 Psyche’s resources be futile? In my opinion, no. Firstly, the first people to mine its resources will get very rich before the minerals flood the market. But the more important reason is that there are many minerals that are very useful in the development of our technologies, but expensive — things like platinum in catalytic converters. By mining 16 Psyche’s resources, we would be paving the way for the development of new, superior technologies, the development of which would otherwise be economically unviable.