(Newswire.net— January 28, 2019) — The European Space Agency (ESA) is planning to start digging ore on the Moon by 2025, Telegraph.co.uk reports.
ESA has therefore signed a contract with the Ariane rocket manufacturer, as part of which they will train for and prepare a mission to extract the Moon’s regolith.
Regolith covers the entire Moon’s surface to a depth of at least three and a half feet and it could be processed to produce oxygen, water and fuel.
Many space agencies believe that digging ore on the Moon is crucial to the establishment of permanent lunar bases or colonies.
“The use of space resources could be a key to sustainable lunar exploration and this study is part of ESA’s comprehensive plan to make Europe a partner in global exploration in the next decade – a plan we will put to our Ministers for decision later this year at the Space19+ Conference,” said Dr David Parker, Director of Human and Robotic Exploration at ESA.
Ariane Group, a European consortium for space rocket research and development, said the mission would not include sending people to the Moon, instead only focusing on robotic equipment.
ArianeGroup along with Arianespace and PTScientists, a German start-up which will design and build the lunar lander, and with the help of Space Applications Services, a Belgian company which will provide the ground control facilities and communication infrastructure have joined forces to bring this project to life. But is Moon mining actually economically feasible? It is highly unlikely according to Ian Crawford, professor of planetary science and astrobiology at Birkbeck College, London.
“It’s quite complicated,” he told Space.com. “It’s not simple at all.”
Professor Crawford explained that it would be too expensive to get ore from the Moon back to Earth. It would cost more to harvest energy resources from the Moon than to build renewable energy facilities to power the planet.
“It doesn’t make sense, the whole helium-3 argument,” Crawford said. Strip-mining the lunar surface over hundreds of square kilometers would produce lots of helium-3, he said, but the substance is a limited resource, explained Crawford. “Once you mine it it’s gone,” he said.
Mining the Moon for materials that are rare on Earth is an entirely different endeavor, according to Professor Crawford referring to uranium and thorium — as well as other useful materials whose presence we’re not aware of today.
“It’s entirely possible that when we really explore the moon properly we will find higher concentrations of some of these materials … materials that are not resolvable by orbital remote sensing,” he said.