Mining the lucrative Moon
The race is on for lunar resources
When President Donald Trump signed the executive order in April 2020, encouraging US companies to mine the Moon, it’s unlikely he had any sense of the magnitude of the machine he set in motion. Fast forward 12 years and moon mining is not only feasible, it’s a reality.
Shortly after Trump’s executive order, NASA awarded contracts for four companies to extract small amounts of regolith – or moon dust – from the lunar surface, effectively kickstarting the era of commercial moon mining.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX was the key to making lunar mining commercially viable. SpaceX’s reusable rockets enabled affordable exploration of lunar mining opportunities for hundreds of companies across the globe. The most successful of which are leveraging space-based solar power to keep the lights on and AI-enabled machinery, operated by ‘Tech Workers’ using augmented- and virtual-reality technology to remotely control the machinery on – and below – the Moon’s surface.
The US Department of Energy, working with an exciting entrant to the energy sector, Helios3, is exploring retired astronaut Harrison ‘Jack’ Schmitt’s theory of mining Helium-3 on the Moon for use in nuclear fusion. Although the isotope is plentiful on the lunar surface, by comparison to Earth, they still need to process hundreds of millions of tons of regolith to produce a commercially viable volume of Helium-3. But, because the process is carried out remotely and is powered by an abundant, and free, resource – the Sun – once the initial set-up costs are offset, the operation should prove hugely profitable.
Although many of the geopolitical technicalities are still unresolved, backed by its Artemis Accords partners, the US seems undeterred. Echoing the sentiments she shared as Vice President in 2022, President Kamala Harris tweeted earlier this week: “The United States is proudly leading the way forward on the Moon. And we are committed to ensuring that all space activities are conducted in a responsible, peaceful, and sustainable manner.”
Whether lunar mining will produce the results its biggest fans hope for, remains to be seen. But if global powers cannot find a way to work together, we might be seeing ‘moon shots’ of a far more violent nature in the future!
Warning: Hazardous thinking at work
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