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
In this month’s issue of Physics World, science writer Richard Corfield explains how private firms and space agencies are dreaming of tapping into these lucrative resources and turning the Moon’s grey, barren landscape into a money-making conveyer belt. A video preview of the February issue of Physics World can be viewed here.
Since NASA disbanded its manned Apollo missions to the Moon over 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 interest in 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 in the form of hydrogen and oxygen, which would then be sold to space partners in low Earth orbit.
As the company’s chief executive officer, Dale Tietz, explains, the plan is to build a “gas station in space” in which rocket propellant will be sold at prices significantly lower than the cost of sending fuel from Earth.
SEC plans to extract 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.
Read more: Mining the Moon becomes a serious prospect
The Latest on: Mining the Moon
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