Moon exploration will reduce the shortage of rare earth metals – by Aram Ter-Ghazaryan (Russia Beyond the Headlines – October 26, 2014)

Russian scientists are already referring to the Moon as a hub for flights to other planets. However, the main goal in exploring Earth’s satellite is to expand the production of rare earth metals.

As part of the Federal Space Program, Moon exploration operations will be launched in 2016. In 2018 the first spacecraft will be sent to the Moon to deliver comet material back to Earth. A manned flight is scheduled for 2030-2031. Future plans include the mining of rare earth metals required for the development of high-tech industries.

Looking for comet substances on the lunar south pole

Scientists from the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Moscow State University Sternberg Astronomical Institute and the Russian Federal Space Agency are participating in this Moon exploration project.

The first spacecraft to be sent to the Moon will be relatively simple. According to Vladislav Shevchenko, the Sternberg Institute’s Head of the Department of Lunar and Planetary Research, this is because the Russian space program has not carried out a Moon landing for over 40 years.

“The last Luna-24 launch was carried out in 1976. The current spacecraft, Luna-25, is a lot lighter than its predecessor, as its main mission is to bring back ice from the lunar south pole,” Shevchenko said. According to him, the south pole was chosen because according to satellite data, it houses the largest reserves of frozen volatile gases found in comets.

“This will be a huge breakthrough,” Shevchenko said. “We will be able to ‘feel’ what comets are made of. It will take three days to get to substances that we typically have to spend a minimum of four light years to travel to.”

The chemical make-up of comets remains a mystery to scientists. Comet dust is considered to be one of the “witnesses” from the time of the birth of the Sun. The composition of comets has not changed for the past 4.5 billion years.

According to existing models, the nuclei, made up of frozen gases, contains a “prehistoric substance” of gas and dust nebula. Scientists have been trying to solve the mystery of comets for a long time. For the most part, space probes have been used for comet exploration expeditions, including the famous American space probe Stardust, which travelled for seven years and returned to Earth in 2006.

How will lunar infrastructure develop?

Scientists, including experts from the Russian Institute of Biochemistry, are currently selecting the exact location for the landing. According to the Head of the Russian Federal Space Agency, Oleg Ostapenko, super-heavy space rockets are scheduled for testing over the next decade.

“This is when the full-blown exploration of the Moon will begin,” Ostapenko said. “Program planning is almost complete and we are now in the process of confirmation. When this stage is over, we will wait for a decision from the government. We estimate that this will happen by the end of 2014.”

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