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Moon NASA Space Science

The Prospects For Lunar Mining 348

Posted by Soulskill
from the peak-green-cheese dept.
MarkWhittington writes "With the discovery of vast amounts of water on the Moon, some frozen in the shadows of craters at the Lunar poles and some chemically bonded with the regolith, interest in lunar mining has arisen among commercial space entrepreneurs. Paul Spudis, a lunar geologist, has suggested a plan to return to the Moon, which features, among other things, robotic resource extraction and the deployment of space-based fuel depots using lunar water even before the first human explorers return to the lunar surface. But Mike Wall, writing in Space.com, suggests that there are a number of legal as well as technical issues involved in setting up lunar mining operations."
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The Prospects For Lunar Mining

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  • by WormholeFiend (674934) on Monday January 17, 2011 @08:13PM (#34910644)

    by using clones!

  • by Beardo the Bearded (321478) on Monday January 17, 2011 @08:14PM (#34910652)

    Please direct all complaints to:

    Luna Mining Company
    1 Moon Drive
    Moon

  • by bigsexyjoe (581721) on Monday January 17, 2011 @08:18PM (#34910690)

    I'm surprised the most obvious challenge in going to the moon isn't mentioned in the article: that it takes a huge amount of energy to get to the moon and then to get back. I mean what are we going to mine that has so much value? Water? Energy production uses a huge amount of water. Going to the moon for some water is counter productive.

    It is a far more efficient use of energy to mine the mineral out of garbage dumps than try to try to ship it from the moon.

    • by Jeremi (14640) on Monday January 17, 2011 @08:24PM (#34910742) Homepage

      it takes a huge amount of energy to get to the moon and then to get back

      You don't have to send much material to the moon: "just" some mining and processing robots. The real trick will be getting the resulting large quantities of rocket fuel from the moon to where it would be useful (i.e. other Earth orbits). The moon's gravity well is much shallower than Earth's, but I'm not sure if it's shallow enough to make such a venture profitable.

      I mean what are we going to mine that has so much value? Water? Energy production uses a huge amount of water.

      Rocket fuel, apparently. But to get rocket fuel (read: hydrogen and oxygen) you have to split the mined moon-water, which means you'll need some energy source to do the splitting. Where will that energy come from? Vast solar panel arrays? Nuclear? Geothermal? (does the moon have any geothermal energy to be tapped?)

      • by pspahn (1175617) on Monday January 17, 2011 @08:28PM (#34910782)
        What's wrong with using oil? It's working well here on Earth.
      • by moteyalpha (1228680) on Monday January 17, 2011 @08:35PM (#34910844) Homepage Journal
        It would seem that the dark and light sides of the moon comprises a heat engine. For example, a tube which was placed about the pole and filled with gas, would expand in areas exposed to the sun and contract away from the sun in a continuous cycle, much like the engine that powers the Earths weather. It would this would be extensible and provide the local energy by turbine to operate some robotic process.
        • You're new to the moon, aren't you?

          • by T-Bone-T (1048702)

            He brings up a good idea but poor execution. According to the recently released illumination map there are many places where this could be done.

        • by c0lo (1497653)

          It would seem that the dark and light sides of the moon comprises a heat engine. For example, a tube which was placed about the pole and filled with gas, would expand in areas exposed to the sun and contract away from the sun in a continuous cycle, much like the engine that powers the Earths weather.

          It would this would be extensible and provide the local energy by turbine to operate some robotic process.

          Theoreticaly it should work. Practically, the cosine-law [wikipedia.org] is your worst enemy...
          1. staying close to the poles - building cost constraints - very poor angle of incidence ...
          2. on a 28 days for a "full engine cycle" with probably about 1/3 of this duration in a situation where the gradient is not good enough (extremities of your "tube" too close to the day-night terminators) - need hell of a lot of "thermal inertia" to get the most of the "max temperature differential" period)

          somehow... I don't think it's g

      • by kanto (1851816)

        I mean what are we going to mine that has so much value? Water? Energy production uses a huge amount of water.

        Rocket fuel, apparently. But to get rocket fuel (read: hydrogen and oxygen) you have to split the mined moon-water, which means you'll need some energy source to do the splitting. Where will that energy come from? Vast solar panel arrays? Nuclear? Geothermal? (does the moon have any geothermal energy to be tapped?)

        Helium-3 [wikipedia.org] has been discussed as an energy source on it's own and there has been interest in mining it on the moon (extraterrestrial supplies) [wikipedia.org].

      • by c0lo (1497653)

        Geothermal? (does the moon have any geothermal energy to be tapped?)

        Geothermal? For sure it doesn't.

        (hint: Geo comes from Gea or Gaia).

      • by Jesus_666 (702802)
        A SolaGen MkI should provide enough power for all resources-related operations although I'd think they'd build better replacements as soon as possible in order to build Carracks to get the material back to Earth.

        The real problem is that mining can't be done without at least fifty colonists so before we try to work out mining we'll first have to worry about building an S.I.O.S. and getting it up there.
      • by Tisha_AH (600987)
        It would be called lunathermal but yes, they think that the moon has at least a small molten core. The problem is that we are used to geothermal energy coming in some form of carrier (water) and in that regard the moon is a pretty dry place. There are more than enough thermal differences between sun/shade on the moon that you would not need to go to the complexity of drilling a borehole to get to a hot spot. Just put it in direct sunlight and there is a few hundred degrees of difference. A better bet migh
        • by kindbud (90044)

          Luna is the Roman name for the moon goddess. The Greek name is Selene. Thus terms like selenography, selenothermal, selenotectonic are used to refer to processes and studies of the Moon.

      • "I mean what are we going to mine that has so much value?"

        Knowledge. Learning how to use robots to build and maintain an autonomous moon base would be valuable in and of itself.
    • by Trapick (1163389)
      It does take a lot of energy to get there, but returning from the moon is *lots* easier. You're not hampered by an atmosphere, and there's a lot less gravity to concern yourself with - so if there's anything that valuable - like Helium-3, if we ever get fusion working, it's not *that* expensive to return it to earth. I've also seen ideas for railgun-style launchers - then you'd have some enormous initial cost, but the marginal cost for a payload back to earth would be next to nothing - just the solar/nucle
    • Mike Wall's piece brings it up. Water can be separated into hydrogen and oxygen, which are the major components of rocket fuel. The idea is to mine and process it on the moon, then set up refueling stations in LEO so that you only need to carry enough fuel for part of the way. The hard part is getting off of Earth - going to the Moon, landing, taking off, and returning to Earth is much cheaper. That's why Apollo 13 could make it - big rocket going, small rocket coming back. If you eliminate the need fo

    • by painandgreed (692585) on Monday January 17, 2011 @08:27PM (#34910772)

      I'm surprised the most obvious challenge in going to the moon isn't mentioned in the article: that it takes a huge amount of energy to get to the moon and then to get back. I mean what are we going to mine that has so much value? Water? Energy production uses a huge amount of water. Going to the moon for some water is counter productive.

      We would not be mining the moon for anything that would go back down the gravity well to Earth. We would be mining it for resources for space exploration and operations instead of mining Earth for them. The moon, being smaller has a much smaller cost of getting materials into orbit. If we need a sufficient amount of those materials, it becomes cheaper to ship a mining operation from Earth to the moon and then those materials to space than to ship all the materials straight from Earth. Water is the main resource people are talking about and to reach that break even point, we'd need megatons of the stuff. The only operations that might being to need that much resources from the moon would be large scale habitation or perhaps a trip to Mars. in short, out side of pure science, there will not be any need to mine the moon till there is already a great deal of activity in space at which point mining the moon will just be a cost cutting method.

      • by Thing 1 (178996)
        Won't mining the moon screw up all life on Earth, if we mine enough? Remove enough mass from the moon and it'll escape Earth's orbit; but even before it does that, it will change the lunar cycle, possibly affecting tides as well as, perhaps, menstrual cycles. (Yes, I am likely thinking far into the future.)
        • by c0lo (1497653)

          Won't mining the moon screw up all life on Earth, if we mine enough?

          No, the principle of "most restricting factor governs the ecology" acts nice... water is bound to finish much earlier. To continue mining, you'll need to replace it - ice asteroid capture? If you are able to capture asteroids, no need to mine the moon anymore.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by mibe (1778804)
      Helium-2, rare earths, and who says we necessarily need to send everything back to Earth?
      • by tylersoze (789256)

        Helium 2? What universe are you from? One where the strong nuclear force is 2% greater?

        • He, too, is from the real universe. This is just some weird parallel world where slashdot editors don't, the US military has giant [latimes.com] blimps [highlandstoday.com], the president is black, and the 2004 US civil war never happened.

      • by rangek (16645)

        I think you mean helium-3. Helium-2 is quite impossible.

    • by Chryana (708485)

      I had similar thoughts when I read the summary. From reading the article, it seems the plan would be to do some robotic mining in order to prepare to create a moon base, so this is not purely about mining. If someone has more knowledge of this topic, feel free to correct me here, but it seems it would be much cheaper to do mining in the asteroid belt rather than to go back to the moon, because you avoid the cost of launch out of the moon gravity well. Of course, going to the asteroid belt requires solving a

    • by Cryacin (657549)

      I mean what are we going to mine that has so much value? Water?

      Well, what about the unobtanium? You know, the elements on the periodic table found right between Illudium and weapon's grade Balloneyum.

    • Giant escalator! there, problem solved.
    • Easily fixed. Build a space elevator. No, wait. That would make it dirt cheap to haul water from the Earth's oceans onto geostationary orbit.
      • Why haul it. Just attach a tube and siphon the water out of the ocean : )
        • Because A.C. Clarke said so;) In Songs of Distant Earth [wikipedia.org], the advanced space-faring humans (as against the native humans of the ocean planet Thalassa) haul water from the world ocean by freezing a few cubic meters of it at a time and then pulling the blocks of ice up.

          The difference between hauling up ice cubes and siphoning water is the difference between using a bucket to fetch water for your small camp (a digital activity that can be measured by the number of trips to and from the camp) and diverting a ri

    • Helium-3 in the long term. Solar energy is also extremely abundant above Earth's atmosphere. It's easier energetically speaking, to manufacture solar cell components from resources extracted from the moon and ship it to LEO than it is to do so on Earth and ship it up to LEO. The idea is to have solar cells in LEO or Geostationary orbit and beam the power to ground stations in the form of microwave power.

  • There's a whole new planet just waiting to be overexploited and ruined by greedy corporations out there...

    • by medcalf (68293)
      Some might say that there's a whole new planet waiting to support more humans, and the other life we have to bring along to make ours work, out there. You can stay behind and gripe.
      • What do we need more humans for?

        • Target practice.
        • You seem to be worried that there isn't enough pie to go around.

          Maybe part of the solution is to make more pie.

          • And if we don't have enough people to make all that pie, maybe part of the solution is to make more people?

          • by c0lo (1497653)

            You seem to be worried that there isn't enough pie to go around.

            Maybe part of the solution is to make more pie.

            Why for? There's an easier solution to this:
            1. blow hot air under the pie crust (like, create derivatives for the pie)
            2. sell the hot air to the dumb-witted. No worries, there will be many to buy, the sum of intelligence on the planet is constant, the population growing is an advantage.
            3. make sure you don't get fooled by your own hot air or have some governments ready to bail you
            4. profit

            Sounds familiar?

            • by jmorris42 (1458) *

              > Sounds familiar?

              Yea. And it doesn't work, unlike Capitalism which actually creates wealth. Our current economic difficulties are the result of a mixed economy, one where profit is capitalist and loss is socialist, one where government intervention in the economy is so extreme in some areas it is hard to call it a market with a straight face. And yes one where corporations are too powerful. But guess what a corporation is? A GOVERNMENT created psuedo entity.

              The problem corporations create is a loss

              • by c0lo (1497653)
                Yeap.... uhu.

                I still don't get your opinion in regards with the corporations:
                1. are they a good thing - because they are pretty synonymous in the current stage of capitalism, them being the enitities that create most of the wealth; *or*
                2. are they a baaad thing - being in existence because the blessing of a governmen. (no, they are not created by the govt, they are created by the money everybody in the capitalistic world put in - if you have a private retirement plan, you are contributing to their existenc

        • by c0lo (1497653)

          What do we need more humans for?

          Somebody has to consume and pay for it.

          Without enough humans to buy iPhones and take mortgages they can't afford, how are those "exponential grow bubbles" gonna last? The boom-to-bust cycle started to become boring, you know?

    • Yeah, I can hardly wait for all the posts about how the moon has such a delicate ecosystem.

      We certainly must not disrupt a pristine environment like that.

    • by Jeremi (14640)

      There's a whole new planet just waiting to be overexploited and ruined by greedy corporations out there...

      Ruined how exactly? Is there some flourishing lunar ecosystem (complete with 10-foot smurfs) that I am not aware of?

      • by Kitkoan (1719118)
        Its called Earth, I think it's pretty close to you. Remember things like the Earth's tide is controlled by the Moon. And while the 2002 movie of The Time Machine was an over exaggerated version of what could happen, there is always the chance of something going wrong that could have huge impact to life on Earth. We don't have a full grasp of everything the Moon does that the Earth benefits from but I for one wouldn't want to learn the hard way by having it removed.
    • by c0lo (1497653)
      Hey, that's totally, like, unpatriotic and you sure must be a terrorist. RTFA:

      The inspiration will be as much commercial as scientific and a desire to enhance national prestige and security.

      Afterall, there's nothing wrong with greedy corporations. I mean, Mark Whittington [yahoo.com] - huge genius, I tell ya - offered two out-of-the-box solutions for free... how can we not go ahead and privatize the government, start leasing the moon and reap the profits! [yahoo.com]?

  • we need a less fuel useing way to get there as the oil costs are high to get the moon.

  • by Hartree (191324) on Monday January 17, 2011 @08:27PM (#34910766)

    Maybe Peter Kokh and the rest of the Lunar Reclamation Society (www.moonsociety.org) will see their dream someday.

    I last heard from them in the late 1980s.

    I note they have a chapter in India now. At least people somewhere haven't given up the dream.

  • A Harsh Mistress (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Nethead (1563) <joe@nethead.com> on Monday January 17, 2011 @08:33PM (#34910822) Homepage Journal

    I can't think of one story about mining on the moon that didn't result in a lunar revolt. I'd say the last thing they have to worry about is who owns the resources. It's the staff/residents you have to watch out for.

    • by zill (1690130)
      Exactly. There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.
    • by syousef (465911)

      I can't think of one story about mining on the moon that didn't result in a lunar revolt. I'd say the last thing they have to worry about is who owns the resources. It's the staff/residents you have to watch out for.

      I'll say. Those people will need to be able to withstand -110 to 120 degrees celcius, and live in an environment with no air, no water, no life and cancer causing dust. Sounds damn tough to me!!! Only saving grace is moon gravity means they aren't strong.

      • by skine (1524819)

        Or they can build heated structures filled with air and wear space suits when they go outside.

        Did you think this would be some sort of camping expedition?

    • And I've never read a story about cloning dinosaurs that didn't go horribly awry. Although if it didn't why would I read it?

      I actually just read "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" last week and while I enjoyed the book I don't consider it a very effective "how-to start a lunar libertarian revolution." It's a great story, but it also presupposes a great many things for the plot and motivations to work. Not the least of which being that humanity becomes Malthusian enough to require the space on the moon and th
  • His life is about to get a lot weird on the . . . Moon.
  • There are two completely orthogonal ideas being discussed in these articles: (1) Send humans to the moon again, and help them to survive and return, all at a more reasonable price, by extracting drinking water and rocket fuel (hydrogen and oxygen) from lunar ice. (2) Extract water from the moon and bring it down to low earth orbit for sale as a commodity (rocket fuel).

    #1 raises the question of why it would be valuable to send humans to the moon again. The author of the airspacemag.com article says that we s

  • It's not clear that you'd own what you dig up? Who could stop you from using it?! I'd say the fundamental concept of ownership (if you've got it, it's yours) applies more than some bizarre treaty that's never had any real significance.

    • by winwar (114053)

      "Who could stop you from using it?! I'd say the fundamental concept of ownership (if you've got it, it's yours) applies more than some bizarre treaty that's never had any real significance."

      Lawyers. And governments (lawyers and weapons). Unless you were planning to never return to Earth or near Earth orbit. And if you don't need to do that, then the lawyers and the governments (with lawyers and weapons) can also come to you. Sure, nobody may stop you from getting it and using it but they sure as heck ca

      • by z0idberg (888892)
        Which would work if it's an American company. What would happen if it's China (or even India) that is doing the mining? I can't see the USA invading either country waving lawsuits around.
      • by jmorris42 (1458) *

        > And if you don't need to do that, then the lawyers and the governments
        > (with lawyers and weapons) can also come to you.

        Actually, no. If you are mining lunar resources in sufficient quantity to be economically viable and delivering them to earth orbit you, by definition, are in possession of sufficient tech with direct military application that you could tell the earthers to self procreate. Do the math. Instead of delivering a ton of water into low earth orbit you could just drop a ton of rock on

  • by dirkdodgers (1642627) on Monday January 17, 2011 @10:20PM (#34911642)

    Building, deploying, and maintaining satellites in space, primarily from resources in space, is the best possibility I can think of as an industry that could be self sustaining and based in space while still providing the major economic benefit to the homeworld needed to bootstrap it. Sending satellites into space is so expensive today that valuable and potentially profitable services aren't mass market viable due to the cost of transporting people and things into space. Example: satellite phones. Imagine if there were a self-sustaining space-based satellite industry. In 100 years our descedents could be born in an asteroid-based, moon-based, or space-based sattelite complex colony.

    We should start building up space-based industrial capacity from what's already available in space, which means rebuilding nearly from scratch. We should treat it as a variation on the sci fi theme "how would we rebuild modern industrial capacity in a post-apocolytic world after a massive depopulation event?" It needs to become self sustaining.

    We should mine the moon and asteroids for raw materials, and build from there. I mean from the basics. Let's start by mapping out the asteroid belt exhaustively and identifying sources for all of the materials we need. We need to smelt ore in space. We need to start large scale biomass creation and harvesting in space. Because right now the moon is the most accessible source of water we know of in space, the moon is a critical early component of this.

    Given the choice between establishing a foothold of the human race off of Earth, and eliminating poverty or cancer, give me space any day.

  • What better way to find a use for a Moonstalk [wikipedia.org], the lunar equivalent of a terrestrial Space Elevator. If the materials are available to do such a thing now then mining the moon may finally provide the commercial impetus to get into space. A Moonstalk would certainly remove the need for launchers from the moon to get the material into space.

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