Amid the recent boom in extraterrestrial exploration, a new frontier for private companies and space agencies appears to have emerged: mining the moon for precious resources. Once thought to be a beautiful but largely barren rock, the moon is now believed by some to be a treasure trove of rich materials that could play a vital role in the Earth’s future.
For instance, space agencies hoping to mine the moon say oxygen in its regolith – or lunar soil – could be used to power life support and fuel rockets in space, while rare metals could be ferried back to Earth to be used in everything from gadgets to construction.
What has got the industry most excited, however, is the Helium-3 isotope that is present in moondust, which has been touted as a possible key to safe nuclear energy. But despite its hidden treasure, is mining the moon a viable commercial project?
Some private companies think so. Among them is the Cape Canaveral-based Moon Express, which has raised $12.5m (£9.7m) in late 2018 to fund its plan to put robotic landers on the moon with the goal of sending samples back to Earth.
The ultimate goal is to commercialise the resources, according to boss Bob Richards. “We’ll make some of it available to scientific research,” he said. “But we also plan to commoditise it ourselves.”
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