You’ve probably heard the proposals over the years, the idea that we use other planets for mining so that we don’t have to keep tearing up the surface of our planet and in order to find minerals that are perhaps hard to come across on Earth. This futuristic idea is then followed by a lot of theorizing and imagining of how and what would be needed in order to carry out that mining and of course an idea of when it could possibly happen. But the question at this point is, can we mine in space, how and where?
Lets skip right over the “can” only because there are several companies already investing in the idea that it would work somehow with technology they are still developing. The CEO of Google and director-explorer James Cameron are among the powerful and high profile names that are backing some of this research. They have set their sights on the Moon as the first place that is reachable and desirable for mining minerals using futuristic robotic technology.
What does the moon have that we would want? To start with, it has helium-3, which is a rare earth element that would be essential in nuclear fusion energy projects if those every become a reality. Beyond that, the Moon has deposits of yttrium, dysprosium and lanthanum, all essential in building some of our most in-demand technology including solar cells, fuel cells (for cars), and LED’s. Which makes it sound like when it comes to “green” technology, the Earth is going to need some of the goodies the Moon has to offer.
So how would it work? At this very moment a few companies are testing prototype robots or rover-like machines that can function independently as mineral detecting and extracting vehicles. They are being developed in the tradition of the most famous rovers in history, those that are in use on Mars. At present, these prototypes are only equipped for finding water, which makes it seem like there is still much development needed before we get to helium-3 or any other non-water element. Still, a Canadian company by the name of Northern Centre for Advanced Technology (NORCAT) current working in cooperation with NASA believes that their first robot will be ready to launch by 2020. It is called RESOLVE and it is perhaps a name to remember because within a decade it will make headlines either as the first ever space mining robot, or as a major failure in an otherwise unproven field.
Photo: R D L / flickr