Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
New Delhi, India (4E) – India has confirmed its upcoming Chandrayaan-2 mission to the Moon won’t be just another science exploration mission, but will be aimed at studying the potential for mining the Moon’s most valuable resource — an isotope called Helium-3 (He3).
Found in abundance on the Moon’s surface or lunar regolith, He3 has been described as a perfect energy source that can meet the Earth’s entire energy needs for a millennium. It’s so efficient as a power source that just one million metric tons of this material will produce more than 10 times the energy available from mining all the fossil fuels on Earth — less the pollution.
He3 is found in the lunar soil, and is extracted by heating the soil to 600 degrees Centigrade. About half the Moon’s supplies of He3 are in the lunar “marias” or seas. He3 fusion energy is extremely potent, non-polluting and produces almost no radioactive by-products, as does the conventional nuclear technology used to produce electricity. It is, therefore, an ideal power source for spacecraft on long, interstellar trips
“It is thought that this isotope could provide safer nuclear energy in a fusion reactor, since it is not radioactive and would not produce dangerous waste products,” said the European Space Agency.
India intends to become the first nation to exploit this strategically valuable gas trapped inside Moon soil. The Chandrayaan-2 mission, which consists of an orbiter, lander and a rover, will land near the Moon’s South Pole. The six-wheeled rover will analyze crust samples for signs of He3 and water.
“The countries which have the capacity to bring that source from the Moon to Earth will dictate the process,” said K. Sivan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). “I don’t want to be just a part of them, I want to lead them.”
Chandrayaan-2 is scheduled to launch not earlier than October this year. It will be borne into orbit by a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV Mk II) from the Satish Dhawan Space Center on Sriharikota Island.
There are an estimated one million metric tons of He3embedded in the lunar regolith, but only about a quarter of this total can realistically be brought back to Earth, said Gerald Kulcinski, director of the Fusion Technology Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a former member of the NASA Advisory Council.
Kulcinski said that’s still enough to meet the world’s current energy demands for at least two, and possibly as many as five, centuries. He estimated He3’s value at $5 billion a ton, meaning 250,000 tons will be worth in the trillions of dollars. And India’s going to get the first crack at it.
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