Thursday, June 21, 2012

Foreign Policy: "Is there money on the Moon?"

Five to ten kilometer resolution map of Thorium, related to the lunar surface in parts per million by Japan's lunar orbiter Kaguya. While many have long noted the practical mineral wealth on the Moon, as Joshua E. Keating draws those threads together below, the Moon's most valuable resource is probably still its proximity and its volatiles just outside Earth's gravity well.
Joshua E. Keating
Foreign Policy Blog

In a new article for Foreign Policy, John Hickman ponders what the political ramifications might be if China were to declare sovereignty over a swath of territory on the moon, triggering a lunar land grab. But what about the economics of this extraterrestrial Great Game? Maintaining a permanent manned presence on the moon is an awfully pricey undertaking just to make a political statement. Is there any way to make some money from mining the moon's riches?

Possibly, but it's a long-term investment. The biggest cheese on the moon is probably helium-3, an isotope that's abundant in the moon's regolith, but rare and getting rarer here on Earth. Helium-3 is currently used mostly for scientific research, but some see it as a future source for non-radioactive fusion power. Unfortunately, the United States and Soviet Union exhausted much of the world's supply during Cold War-era nuclear tests. Several private companies, including Silicon Valley's Moon Express, are exploring the development of helium-3 mining on the moon and governments including India and Russia have discussed the possibility. (It's also the basis of the plot for the 2009 movie

It's hard not to be enticed by the numbers. Gerald Kulcinski, director of the Fusion Technology Institute at the University of Wisconsin, estimated when contacted by Foreign Policy that given the potential energy of a ton of helium-3 (the equivalent of about 50 million barrels of crude oil) and the estimated amount of recoverable helium-3 (around 75,000 tons, or 15 percent of the total amount on the moon) we could be looking at around $375 trillion worth of the stuff.

Read the full Foreign Policy blog post

"To read more about China's lunar ambitions, click HERE."

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