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Lunar Drilling: The Resource Race For The Moon Is On

Moon Resources

The race for the Moon is on. Nobody is really sure exactly what resources are located on the Moon, or how vast they are, but a growing number of companies believe the Moon could hold large quantities of natural resources for extraction.

This concept of the Moon as a source of natural resources for humankind is by no means new, but the last few years have seen a lot of developments in advancing this concept to a more practical level.

There is Google’s Lunar X Prize competition, launched in 2007, promising the winning team $20 million if they can successfully land a rover on the Moon, have this rover travel at least 500 meters and transmit HD images and video. So far, 16 teams have entered the competition.

There is Elon Musk’s SpaceX shuttle, which just the other day completed its fifth successful retrieval and second successful landing of a Falcon 9 rocket. The shuttle will probably be used to transport the rovers partaking in the Google competition.

Then there is Lunar Mission One, a private company working on its own independent Moon mission. Lunar Mission One was set up with a Kickstarter campaign and aimed to drill into the surface of the Moon at its South Pole by 2024. The planned depth of drilling was very impressive when it was announced in 2014: between 20 and 100 meters, given that the Moon’s South Pole is a super cold, deep-freeze kind of place. Not much progress has been reported since then, however. Related: Why Lithium Will See Another Price Spike This Fall

The South Pole of the Moon is also the target of another mission, Luna-Resurs. Conceived and developed in Russia with Indian participation, the mission has now added the European Space Agency, which has agreed to fund and build a prototype drill and a chemical lab to analyze whatever the drill takes out of the Moon—a package together known as Prospect.

Initially, the ESA will provide 8 million euro ($8.81 mln) for the project and a further injection of 65 million euro ($71.6 mln) will have to be agreed by the European ministers. This second sum also includes funding for work on an autonomous navigation system by the name of Pilot, to be used to land the probe on the Moon.

The drill and the chemical lab will be constructed by Italy’s aerospace major Leonardo, formerly Finmeccanica. The drill will be able to penetrate the deeply frozen surface of the Moon in the South Pole Aitken Basin at 1 meter. The principal goals of the mission are to look for water and “other volatiles”, according to Richard Fisackerly, the lead engineer on the project from the ESA side. Related: Halliburton Reports $3.2 Billion Loss, But Sees Activity Picking Up

These volatiles—oxygen, hydrogen, etc—could be used as part of life support systems for people living and working on the Moon, as energy source for these colonizers, and also as rocket fuel at a later point. The location for the mission, on the other hand, has been chosen because of its depth. The South Pole Aitken Basin is the largest impact basin on the Moon and one of the deepest. This means that potentially valuable natural resources are closer to the surface there.

It may look strange that Europe is teaming up with Russia, especially in light of recent tensions between the two, but there is a perfectly good explanation: Europe cannot afford a standalone Lunar mission. It had plans to have one, but the ministers refused to cough up the 500 million euro it would have taken. Since economic recovery for most of Europe is still not well visible on the horizon, a partnership was the only sensible option if Europe did not want to lag behind the U.S.

Even if the Moon’s resources are not in large enough amounts for industrial mining, if there is water, there may be a chance for colonizing the Moon in a real way…so we can start leaving the Earth before we suffocate it completely.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • JP DeCaen on July 21 2016 said:
    I hope the author is not serious about the last paragraph. If we are too dumb to survive on this big wonderful planet, you can imagine what our chances are on the moon. I'm all for exploration, but let's give our planet a chance.

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