Listen to our panellists discuss this fascinating topic:
Robert P. Mueller, Exploration Research and Technology Programs, NASA
Jean-François Harvey, Managing Partner & Founder, Harvey Law Group
JFH: Will the race to the moon be about water or Helium 3?
RM: Firstly, lets address the issue of what space mining is. Many people think it is mining minerals and bringing these back to earth but actually this is a very small category. Most of the activity is designed enable space exploration.
They have orbital data that indicated hydrogen at both poles, which in term indicates water. Impact tests have indicated that there is 5.5% yield of water when you crush up rock from the surface of the moon; which is a very promising sign. Oxygen and Hydrogen are the most efficient chemical rocket propellent that we have today; the space shuttle used hydrogen and oxygen. It can also be used to drinking, radiation shielding, return journeys and lots of other elements essential for sustainability.
Helium 3 is an ore body, an isotope that comes from the Sun. Helium 3 does not exist on Earth. It is an enabler for nuclear fusion. If we can harness nuclear fusion, we can fulfil all our energy needs with clean energy. The idea is to mine it and bring it back to earth at a value of about $3bn per tonne and that is a profitable business case. Most
JFH - What is the most efficient human mining or robotic mining:
RM - It a big trade-off, the Mars expeditions have used robotics very successfully for the last 10 years. However, the whole activity of the last 10 years could have been done with a human in 2 weeks. Robots are cheap relative to human missions, but they are extremely slow and inefficient. Humans are flexible and fast. If a human goes out onto the moon twice in a week, they will have reached their radiation quota for the week. So, the robots will be the helpers they will do the work. The humans will do the trouble shooting, maintenance, spare parts, the humans provide the flexibility, ingenuity, curiosity, the robots are the workers. We call it cobotics – cooperative robotics.
JFH - What is the economic threshold of mining in the Moon?
RM - The question is what adds value, what is it we need? A kilo gram of water on the moon is much more valuable to me than gold. The value proposition in space is all about water – it keeps you alive and gives you transportation. There is plenty of energy n the Moon from the Sun. By electrolysing this you can store solar energy very easily with water.