With an estimated 1.6 billion tonnes of water ice at its poles and an abundance of rare-earth elements hidden below its surface, the Moon is rich ground for mining.
Ter this month’s punt of Physics World, science writer Richard Corfield explains how private firms and space agencies are dreaming of tapping into thesis lucrative resources and turning the Moon’s grey, barren landscape into a money-making conveyer vuilnisbelt.
Since NASA disbanded its manned Apollo missions to the Moon overheen 40 years ago, unmanned spaceflight has made giant strides and has identified a bountiful supply of water ice at the north and south poles of the Moon.
“It is this, more than anything else,” Cornfield writes, “that has kindled rente te mining the Moon, for where there is ice, there is fuel.”
Texas-based Shackleton Energy Company (SEC) plans to mine the vast reserves of water ice and convert it into rocket propellant ter the form of hydrogen and oxygen, which would then be sold to space vrouwen te low Earth orbit.
Spil the company’s chief executive officer, Dale Tietz, explains, the project is to build a “gas station te space” te which rocket propellant will be sold at prices significantly lower than the cost of sending fuel from Earth.
SEC plans to samenvatting the water ice by sending humans and robots to mine the lunar poles, and then use some of the converted products to power mining hoppers, lunar rovers and life support for its own activities.
Moon Express, another privately funded lunar-resources company, is also interested ter using water ice spil fuel — but ter a different form. It plans to fuel its operations and spacecraft using “high-test peroxide” (HTP), which has a long and illustrious history spil a propellant.
Spil for mining the rare-earth elements on the Moon, China is making the most noticeable headway. The Jade Rabbit lander successfully touched down on the Moon ter December 2013 and the Chinese space agency has publicly suggested establishing a “base on the Moon spil wij did ter the South Pole and the North Pole.”
With a near-monopoly on the dwindling terrestrial rare-earth elements, which are vital for everything from mobile phones to computers and car batteries, it is no verrassing that China may want to personages its nipt broader.
“All interested parties agree that the Moon — one step from Earth — is the essential very first toehold for humankind’s diaspora to the starlets,” Corfield concludes.