Indian space agency will mine the moon to meet country’s entire energy needs by 2030
The lunar dust brought back to the Earth by mission such as the Apollo and Luna revealed abundance of valuable minerals on Moon. Along with substance called Helium 3, which could solve all energy needs on our planet.
While many countries, including China are planning to send their probes on Moon to mine the satellite’s surface for Helium 3 – Indian space agency doesn’t want to be left behind.
A professor at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), Dr Sivathanu Pillai claims, India could by 2030 meet all of its energy needs from resources extracted from the moon.
Pillai, in his valedictory address at the three-day ORF-Kalpan Chawla Space Policy Dialogue said, ‘all of India’s energy requirements could be met through Helium 3 mined from Moon. He stressed, ‘the process target will be met by 2030.’
Regolith, loose soil on moon’s surface has enough Helium 3 to meet the energy requirements of the entire world. According to Pillai, mining the lunar surface for Helium 3 and transporting it back to Earth is ISRO’s priority program.
Finding Helium 3
Helium 3, if you have seen the movie ‘Moon’, is the same material Sam Bell was mining in the far side of the moon.
As it may have been previously thought, Helium 3 is not a fictitious material – it is an isotype of helium, which can provide for the world’s energy needs without any pollution.
Helium 3 is dispensed by solar winds, but the helium isotype is rare on Earth because our planet’s surface has magnetic field that guards the solar helium 3 from reaching the surface. Moon on the other hand has no such magnetic field, so there is no stopping the Helium 3 from depositing on the satellite’s surface and absorbing in its soil.
Of course, Earth does have little helium 3 generated by cosmic ray bombardment and from leftovers of nuclear materials around nuclear warhead test sites – but it is very limited in comparison with up to five million tons of helium 3 spread across the surface of the moon.
The main reason, countries such as India, want to mine the surface of the moon for Helium 3 is because it’s believed that Helium 3 isotype can provide safe, radioactive free nuclear energy in a fusion reactor. Since, Helium 3 is not radioactive, it leave no pollution or dangerous waste for the future generations to monitor.
Race to mining the moon
India has in the past hinted about its interesting in mining the lunar surface, but unlike Russia or China, this is the first time, someone from the Indian space agency has been vocal on the subject.
While Russian company Energia is behind its ambition to have a permanent lunar base by 2015 and mine Helium 3 by 2020, China is on track to launch Chang’e 5 – unmanned lunar exploration in November 2017, with the purpose to bring lunar soil with Helium 3 back to the Earth.
Exploiting the moon’s surface for purpose of mankind is not only limited to harvesting of regolith. Private players such as Shackleton Energy are interested in extracting water instead of Helium 3. Company visions to propel missions throughout the solar system using water extracted from the moon.
Real hurdles on the way for India
Extracting Helium 3 from the moon and getting it back to the Earth is easier said than done.
Even if the Indian space agency can break the shackles of bureaucratic red tape –logistics of lunar missions and mining efforts are going to take a toll.
Extracting Helium 3 from moon is undoubtedly difficult and transporting large quantities of the same back to Earth is the biggest problem. Additionally, after mining the lunar soil, it has to be heated at temperatures over 600 degrees Celsius to separate Helium 3 from the lunar rock.
Additionally, concept of Helium 3 fusion itself in its infancy. Small fusion reactors made for testing in the West suggest it is not been possible to create helium fusion reactions with net power output.
In that case, should we be excited about the ISRO claims? Should India, or for that matter any other country, mine the moon and destroy its surface for an alternative clean energy source for the human race on Earth?