Texas-based Shackleton Energy Company has already begun operations aimed at mining the Moon within the next few years. The company’s plans for mining and refining operations would involve melting the ice and purifying the water, converting the water into gaseous hydrogen and oxygen, and then condensing the gases into liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen and hydrogen peroxide, all potential rocket fuels.
Shackleton CEO Dale Tietz says the water extracted would be used almost exclusively as rocket fuel to power operations both within Low Earth Orbit (LEO) – such as space tourism and the removal of space-debris – on the Moon, and further out into space.
‘We are a for-profit business enterprise moving forward, and so we are only going there really for one reason and that is to mine, prospect mine and harvest water for rocket propellant production,’ says Tietz.
Assuming we don’t find any hidden machines that come alive upon disturbance, this seems like a very exciting development.
The article notes that the current cost of bringing equipment into space is roughly $25,000 per kilogram (~$11300 per pound), prohibitively expensive unless the resource’s value is equally as high, though it seems obvious that the price would fall if there were numerous different companies involved.
One of the most hyped resources found on the moon is the production of Helium-3. Though scientists haven’t quite figured out how to use Helium-3 in nuclear fission, there are high hopes that in the future it might provide nearly limitless amounts of safe, inexpensive energy. Because of its rarity, it currently sells for $16 million per kilogram.
There are still a number of issues government’s face with regards to who “owns” the resources on the moon:
Regulation over resource extraction in space remains ambiguous, however. The UN’s 1967 Outer Space Treaty (OST) doesn’t ban the extraction of resources from space so long as mining stations don’t constitute de facto ‘occupation’ of a part of outer space. The OST, however, doesn’t mention who would own any resources retrieved in space.
Defining property rights for a new frontier is likely to stir up a heated debate, mostly among players who aren’t actually involved in the enormous risks of space travel. Hopefully this debate, among other government regulations, won’t prevent humanity from taking advantage of our resourceful world to continue improving our lives.