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What Potential Does the Moon Hold for Mining?

What Potential Does the Moon Hold for Mining?
Written by Dave Peterson

What Potential Does the Moon Hold for Mining?

What Potential Does the Moon Hold for Mining?What Potential Does the Moon Hold for Mining? – When experts speak of resources running out, what is often meant is the economic viability of the resource. This means that as long as mining the resource isn’t an economic net loss, it’s usable.

Let’s take a theoretical example. Let’s assume that uranium on earth gets overused for a few decades. Over time, this overuse will lead to it slowly becoming scarce. Thus, the locations available to mine will be scarce. There will be competition over such areas.

The competition means that mining costs will be higher (contract bids for the area). As competition over what is left increases, the mining costs increase, up until mining leads to a net loss.

This is when the mineral is considered as having “run out”.

It’s about the costs, and is the reason why mining utility metals on the moon is difficult. Iron for example is really cheap to mine on earth, but very expensive to mine on the moon.

You’d go broke digging iron on a lunar expedition.

This forces us to seek only minerals whose costs and rarity justify their mining. We’ll be listing some of those minerals for you below.

But first, there’s a small issue we want to touch on for moon mining…

How easy is it to Build Mining Facilities on the Moon?

What Potential Does the Moon Hold for Mining?The simple reply is, it’s not. When building a mining facility, you’ve got 2 options. You’re either:

  • Going to launch the facilities (buildings and all) into space (or)
  • You’re building the facilities on the moon from scratch

Launching facilities to the moon is too expensive. You’re not just sending over some drills to the moon. You’re sending structures that will take up hundreds of square kilometers in space.

You’ll also need manpower to build those structures (unless they’re premade on earth). We touched on the issue of manpower in a previous article.

Thus, you’re best bet is to build the structure on the moon yourself. While you’ll need sustainable manpower there, it’s definitely a lot easier to do. Also, the material needed to build and power mining facilities are already abundant on the moon.

Iron and Silicon to Create Moon Facilities. What Potential Does the Moon Hold for Mining?

Iron on the moon can be used to fashion steel for the buildings and tools. It’s pretty simple to do on the moon.

Silicon on the other hand will be used to create electricity. The moon after all does receive sunlight on a constant basis. Silicon has actually been heavily encouraged for lunar electricity production in NASA, as far back as the 1980s (1).

Solar energy is perfect for lunar activities. Not only is it easier to install, it is also clean. This is unlike nuclear energy, which is dangerous, requires a lot of precautions, and needs never-ending supervision and manning.

It is also cheaper to use solar power. Nuclear energy, if mined on the moon, will mostly be transported back to Earth for use. It would be counterintuitive to mine nuclear energy on the moon, simply to exhaust it there right after.

Oh, and speaking of nuclear energy…

Nuclear Energy and Rare Metals: The Mission of the Moon. What Potential Does the Moon Hold for Mining?

What Potential Does the Moon Hold for Mining?There are only 2 mineral types of value to be mined on the moon. The first would be radioactive minerals for nuclear energy. The second would be platinum-group elements, which are already rare naturally.

Nuclear Energy. What Potential Does the Moon Hold for Mining?

The most looked at nuclear forms of energy are Helium-3 and Uranium. Uranium unfortunately is not that abundant on the moon (2). It is too scarce on the moon to justify the costs of mining it.

The 2nd energy mineral is Helium-3. Helium-3 is actually a rare isotope of helium, which is released from solar sources into air (sun specifically). Helium-3 is in abundance on the moon’s surface, and is estimated to have the energy capacity of oil by a large magnitude.

Unfortunately, helium-3 is difficult to find on the surface of the earth. It is difficult to find, due to our planet’s magnetic field which deflect the particles away. A lot of those deflected particles happen to land on the moon. Over millions of years of the earth’s magnetic field have led to high levels of the mineral on the moon.

The difference between Earth and moon in helium-3 is actually drastic. It is estimated that while earth has 15 tons of helium-3, the moon has between 1-5 million in reserves (4).

On a global level, mining helium-3 seems to be a core energy goal. With non-renewable resources running low, humanity is chasing after helium-3 resources on the moon. For example, countries like China are focusing their space missions on getting helium-3 samples (3).

Of course, helium-3 has yet to be used practically as a fuel on earth. Projects to create reactors that utilize this as fuel are still underway. After all, there isn’t much helium-3 available to begin with.

Platinum Group Metals. What Potential Does the Moon Hold for Mining?

What Potential Does the Moon Hold for Mining?Platinum group metals are characterized by their extreme rarity. Yet, they’re dug up due to their properties that are useful on many technological levels. As a general rule, platinum group metals are considered the densest, most conductive, and most heat-resistant of all elements.

Platinum group metals include: Platinum, Palladium, Osmium, Iridium, Ruthenium, and Rhodium. A single kilogram of each metal can cost thousands of dollars. Osmium for example is $13,000 per kilogram. Rhodium has at times reached $97,000 per kilogram.

That’s how rare those metals are.

The Competition for Energy. What Potential Does the Moon Hold for Mining?

We mentioned that China was already aiming for the helium-3 reserves on the moon. We can’t blame them, especially with the resource crisis they’re heading towards.

But what about other countries? After all, China isn’t the only country in the world with a space program. There’s also the USA, the first country to reach the moon. Then there’s China’s eternal next-door rival, Japan. Russia is also involved, having both a space program, and relying on resource exports that may be affected by helium-3.

Reaching into space to get helium-3 won’t be easy, but the same also applies to avoiding conflict in the process. In following articles, we’re going to talk about clashes of interests between nations on the moon. We’ll also discuss any roles each country’s military may have in the process!

Sources Cited.

  1. https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19890018248.pdf
  2. http://www.space.com/8644-moon-map-shows-uranium-short-supply.html
  3. https://www.extremetech.com/extreme/197784-china-is-going-to-mine-the-moon-for-helium-3-fusion-fuel
  4. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/cndy/2006-07/26/content_649325.htm

Can humankind overcome national interest for a common goal for establishing a lunar colony?

About the author

Dave Peterson

Dave Peterson
Passion for adventure and sharing his life long journey with as many others as possible.

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." HENRY S. HASKINS

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