The great powers of the world look at the moon with something more than an illusion. Last Friday, Russia launched its first spacecraft in 47 years to land on the moon. Last July, China announced that it plans to send its first astronauts in 2030. And NASA is already preparing to set foot on lunar soil again in 2025 with its Artemis mission. There is more than an illusion, a lot of ambition. Lunar mining is in everyone’s plans.

On our Moon – we can still speak in the plural – there are many resources that you might be interested in. Water, possibly in the form of ice. In addition to being essential for human life, it can be a source of hydrogen and oxygen, which can be used, for example, to produce rocket fuel.

Lunar soil is also rich iron, silicon and magnesium. A report by the American multinational corporation Boeing explains that it can also be found scandium, yttrium and lanthanides. These are metals used in the manufacture of computers, smartphones and other technological gadgets.

and eat helium-3, a very rare isotope on Earth. Last year, China announced the discovery of a new mineral on the moon called Changesite-(Y), rich in helium-3. NASA, for its part, believes that million tons of this element. This resource is highly valued because it can provide nuclear energy in a fusion reactor. It would be even safer, according to the European Space Agency, because it is not radioactive and would not produce hazardous waste. With all this, the space race is accelerating.

NASA illustration of the future lunar camp.

NASA Plan to Mining on the Moon

It is not yet clear how lunar mining will work. In principle, an infrastructure is needed, which does not yet exist. But NASA, of course, already has an idea where to start.

The US space agency said it expects start excavating lunar soil in 2032. Artemis, the mission that will set foot on the moon again in more than 50 years, aims to analyze and quantify the availability of resources of commercial interest in order to attract private investment.

“We are investing in the exploration phase, in understanding resources… so that outside investment makes sense and can lead to development and production,” Gerald Sanders, a rocket scientist at NASA’s Johnston Space Center, said at the conference. The Cup was held in June last year.

The first customers are expected to be commercial rocket companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin, or other private companies that are already partnering with NASA. Blue Origin, led by Jeff Bezos, has already developed a patented process to turn moon rocks into solar cells. The billionaire, also the founder of Amazon, is looking forward to trying it out in the real world.

NASA said in June it would send this year test drilling rig to the moon. also develops all-terrain vehicle with the Australian Space Agency, which will collect new samples from 2026. Using other equipment that will be sent to the moon with this robot, NASA will try to extract the oxygen contained in the oxides from the lunar surface.

The excavation project for 2032 is ambitious and includes experienced processing plant. NASA stressed that all of these advances are a fundamental step towards establishing the first human settlements on the Moon. It will also allow for a stopover for future missions to Mars. The idea in the future is to produce many of the necessary tools there, because it is very expensive to take them from Earth.

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Russia and China, allies in the race to the moon

China has become the second country in the world to literally plant its flag on the moon. He did this in 2020 thanks to an unmanned spacecraft, which also collected samples of lunar rocks. Since then, things have moved quickly.

A year later, China launched the first module of its Tiangong space station, which translates as “Heavenly Palace”, into orbit. Since 2021, the Asian giant has launched five manned missions to this station.

Although China is more secretive, it has already said this year that it hopes to set foot on the moon before 2030. Chinese researchers are developing the next-generation manned spacecraft, lunar lander and manned lunar rover.

Even before arriving with its team, Beijing hopes to start build a base at the south pole of the moon with the help of a robot that uses the soil material of this satellite. It will work with nuclear power, said Vu Weiren, who was in charge of the project. “We want China not to come and say that the water belongs to them,” said Bill Nelson, NASA administrator, in an interview acknowledging the space potential of his rival.

And then there’s Russia, which wants to take its place in the space battle. The Luna 25 robotic probe successfully launched last Friday. Moscow has not sent such missions to the Earth’s satellite since 1976. Like the United States and China, the Russians are aiming for the south pole of the moon, where everyone hopes to find water.

Moscow wants to be with this missionthe first nation to reach the south pole of the satellite. It’s a race against time because a mission from India is expected to arrive this month. However, Russia said it would arrive on August 21, two days earlier. The Academy of Sciences has developed a robotic arm that will not return to Earth, but will test samples on site. The United States downplays this: “The real space race is between us and China.” Nelson said last week at a press conference.

lunar mining

Is there something in the law on the ownership of lunar soil?

The United Nations was founded in 1966. Outer Space Treaty. The agreement states that no nation can claim sovereignty over the moon. It also determines that the exploration of space must have a great purpose: benefit to all countries.

Later, in 1979 Treaty of the Moonwhich includes individuals. The document states that no part of the moon “may be owned by any state, international organization (intergovernmental or non-governmental), national organization or non-governmental organization, or any individual.” But only about twenty countries have signed it. China, Russia and the US are not on the list.

“Space mining is subject to relatively weak existing policy or governance, despite these potentially high risks,” the RAND Corporation, a non-profit research organization, explains in an article. lunar mining “creates the potential for conflict between competing nation-states as well as between non-state actors”

Former US President Barack Obama signed a law in 2015 giving private companies the right to own the resources they mine in space. “We believe that we can extract and use the resources of the Moon in the same way that we can extract and use tuna from the ocean,” then-NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in 2020.

NASA has been pushing the new initiative since 2020. Then the US space agency announced Artemis Accords, named after their lunar program. He proposes to establish “safety zones” that should be respected in order to prevent conflicts. He also offers “safe and sustainable resource extraction”, at the same time that it incorporates the provisions of the 1966 treaty. Twenty-eight countries have already signed the regulating agreement. Russia and China are certainly not in the group.

Source: Hiper Textual

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