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China is taking lunar mining seriously

Frik Els | August 3, 2014

 

China’s plans to return to the moon early 2020s. Filling one shuttle’s cargo bay with helium-3 could bring the equivalent energy of 1bn barrels of oil back to earth.

China is the only power taking lunar mining seriouslyIn 2009 NASA launched the first lunar mining competition called The Lunabotics Mining Competition (now simply called the Robotic Mining Competition) that aims to generate “innovative ideas and solutions, which could be applied to actual lunar excavation for NASA.”

Google is also sponsoring a moon-related prize, the Lunar X-prize, a $40 million competition to encourage privately funded teams to launch “land a robot safely on the moon, move 500 meters on, above, or below the moon’s surface and send back HDTV Mooncasts for everyone to enjoy!”

Newt Gingrich, presidential aspirant in the 2012 Republican contest, wanted to see a permanent moon base established by the second term of his presidency that could be used for space tourism and mining ventures. Gingrich was widely mocked for his grand plan and former space executives criticized the policy, choosing to endorse Mitt Romney.

The moon is rich in rare earths, titanium and could support mining with recent evidence of the existence of water, the big prize when excavating the moon is helium-3.

Almost non-existent on earth, helium-3 is abundant and accessible on the moon and could be used in nuclear fusion, producing much more energy than fission reactions and with much less radioactive waste.

It would establish the same kind of monopoly that in the past created the fortunes of ventures like the East India Company

While the USA dabbles with the idea of lunar mining and both India and Russia  have in the past floated ideas, China is the only power pushing ahead with an actual program.

Writing in The Diplomat Fabrizio Bozzato, a PhD Candidate at the Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies at the Tamkang University in Taiwan, intriguingly argues China’s program to land on the moon within a decade could be a game-changer:

Horizon: Moon for sale 1/2

Helium-3 Power Generation

Helium-3 (He3) is gas that has the potential to be used as a fuel in future nuclear fusion power plants. There is very little helium-3 available on the Earth. However, there are thought to be significant supplies on the Moon. Several governments have subsequently signalled their intention to go to the Moon to mine helium-3 as a fuel supply. Such plans may come to fruition within the next two to three decades and trigger a new Space Race.

Mining Helium-3 On the Moon

Uploaded on Jul 12, 2008

Helium-3 is a very rare gas with the potential to fuel clean nuclear fusion power plants. However, one of the problems is that the nearest supply of helium-3 is on the Moon. This video by Christopher Barnatt discusses the nuclear physics, space exploration and global politics that may be involved in mining the Moon for helium-3.

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