China's plan for Moon mining
China and Russia have both recently been discussing plans for mining a valuable element on the Moon.
They are interested in Helium-3, an isotope that is rare on Earth, but “relatively” abundant on the Moon where it is deposited by the Solar winds.
Helium-3 is desirable for use as fuel in fusion reactors. It can release a great deal of energy leaving behind only low-level nuclear waste. Just 20 tonnes of Helium-3 could meet the United States’s current electricity needs for a year.
It’s a long way to go to get the fuel, but it may be worth it. Helium-3 acquired on Earth is currently valued at about US$1 billion per tonne.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, there are a few issues to overcome:
- While the Moon has Helium-3 for the taking, Moon mining would require processing up to 150 million tonnes of rock to get just one tonne of the good stuff. Moon-miners will need a lot more equipment than a pick-axe and sturdy over-alls.
- A fusion reactor that can consistently produce more energy than it consumes is yet to be built. We know it’s possible because we see a working fusion reactor demonstrated every day – our Sun. It is going to require a lot more research to unlock the secret.
- The Outer Space Treaty, signed by the US, China and Russia amongst others, states that the Solar System is to be exploited for the benefit all all people. Does that mean that the haul from Moon mining will have to be shared with everyone?
- Moon mining would be a huge project and it may not be something that can rely on automation or remote-control alone. A feeble Human equipped with a wad of gum could be the difference between success and failure if a key piece of equipment goes unexpectedly awry. How do we get there? No Human has set foot on the satellite in well over 40 years and nobody currently has the capability of getting a Human to the surface and back… alive.
The picture for this article about Moon mining is from the JPL NSSDC photo gallery, showing Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt standing next to boulder at Taurus-Littrow during the third EVA.
Moon mining movie
The story of the sole caretaker of a semi-automated Helium-3 mine on the Moon. His three year contract is almost up and he’s begun to have some worrying hallucinations…
If you haven’t seen it, then you should check out “Moon”
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