Chemistry and Physics

Space Mining and Lunar Bases

Space, stars, satellites, shuttles. So many of us share these fascinations, including Impact writer Rian Patel. We stare up into the skies and wonder about our continual exploration of space. Recently, we have marvelled at SpaceX satellites as they dance and travel through our night skies, but there is so much more currently taking place. And so many untapped resources.

The Hubble Telescope has photographed deep space, showing us stars, galaxies and swathes of colourful gases. Multi-national satellites and probes zoom through our Solar System, and the Curiosity rover is treading through the dusty red surface of Mars investigating habitability and water on the planet right now as we speak. All this activity is just a precursor for what the future holds for humanity and for our relationship with the vast stretches of space.

Recent years have seen mounting interest for mining space objects, rather than just observing them. Space mining is mining on asteroids, and other celestial objects such as the Moon, to harvest metals and elements to transport back to Earth (or space bases) for use and profit.

Perhaps the biggest use-case for space mining is the desire to develop a society on the Moon itself

This has gained traction this year due to President Trump signing into U.S. policy the possibility of exploiting ‘off-Earth’ resources. The ambiguity of current space laws signed during the Cold War has made this controversial. Nonetheless, the U.S. Congress has ploughed on with the enticing prospect for NASA and commercial companies such as SpaceX to be proactive in the field of space mining.

Aside from financial incentives, there is a deeper reason for space mining that concerns our use of metals here on Earth. Many elements are dwindling in supply but are in high demand. Elements such as indium, gold, lithium, and uranium are facing serious threat due to our current usage.

Far, far away, asteroids are being investigated for their composition. But some of these elements and many others are already known to exist trapped in the lunar surface, and are a prospect to be exported back to Earth. Another commodity on the Moon is helium-3, which could one day be used for nuclear fusion reactors, machinery which functions like the inner-workings of the Sun, to support the world’s electricity production with minimal emissions.

Orion capsule

The Orion space capsule is part of NASA’s Artemis Program


Perhaps the biggest use-case for space mining is the desire to develop a society on the Moon itself, in order to sustain viable mining projects beyond our immediate space neighbourhood to asteroids. The Moon has resources to provide rocket fuel, and to have launch facilities installed on the lunar surface would mean cheaper, quicker, and more resourceful launches compared to those from Earth which have to battle against our gravity and atmosphere.

This may all seem like sci-fi, but it is certainly possible. So, what is stopping us? The failure to obtain investment in these long-term projects is a core reason that all this has not yet kicked off. The air of risk that surrounds these relatively untapped areas of interest is enough to prevent it from going forward.

By planting the seeds for a sustainable Moon colony, we will be ushering in a new age

To a build a moon base takes time, money, and great effort. NASA, in cooperation with other space agencies and commercial spaceflight companies around the world, is currently developing the Artemis Program. This will see the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024. Not only this, but the purpose is to help make the first steps toward a sustainable presence on the Moon in the future too, allowing for the development of a lunar economy with private companies.

This decade will be an exciting time for space developments if everything goes to plan. In the coming years, we will springboard the advancement of our species. By planting the seeds for a sustainable Moon colony, we will be ushering in a new age. Harvesting fuel, and mining metals and gases from the Moon is a real opportunity. From there is the potential to launch, with greater ease, probes, satellites, and structures that will take our species to Mars and begin mining on asteroids.

To know that all this is waiting for us is not a fantasy but an exciting reality. And, like a blockbuster, it is coming soon!

Rian Patel

Featured image by scitechtrend from Flickr. Image is unchanged. License found here. The image of the Orion spacecraft is by Global Panorama from Flickr. Image is unchanged. License found here.

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2 Comments on this post.
  • Derek Jones
    24 July 2020 at 12:28
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    The yellow print is very difficult to see and read. Please consider a darker more visible font.

    Thank you kindly.

    • Phoebe Raine
      25 July 2020 at 10:13
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      Hi, thank you for your suggestion! We have taken this on, and hope that our new slightly darker colour is easier to read.

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