Explainer: Moon mining - Why major powers are eyeing a lunar gold rush?
By Guy Faulconbridge
August 11, 20237:39 AM PDTUpdated a day ago
MOSCOW, Aug 11 (Reuters) - Russia launched its first moon-landing
spacecraft in 47 years on Friday amid a race by major powers including
the United States, China and India to discover more about the elements
held on the earth's only natural satellite.
Russia said that it would launch further lunar missions and then explore
the possibility of a joint Russian-China crewed mission and even a lunar
base. NASA has spoken about a "lunar gold rush" and explored the
potential of moon mining.
Why are major powers so interested in what is up there?
The moon, which is 384,400 km (238,855 miles) from our planet, moderates
the earth's wobble on its axis which ensures a more stable climate. It
also causes tides in the world's oceans.
Current thinking is that it was formed when a massive thing collided
with earth about 4.5 billion years ago. The debris from the collision
came together to form the moon.
Temperatures vary: in full Sun, they rise to 127 degrees Celsius while
in darkness they plummet to about minus 173 degrees Celsius. The moon's
exosphere does not give protection against radiation from the Sun.
The first definitive discovery of water on the moon was made in 2008 by
the Indian mission Chandrayaan-1, which detected hydroxyl molecules
spread across the lunar surface and concentrated at the poles, according
Water is crucial for human life and also can be a source of hydrogen and
oxygen - and these can be used for rocket fuel.
Helium-3 is an isotope of helium that is rare on earth, but NASA says
there are estimates of a million tonnes of it on the moon.
This isotope could provide nuclear energy in a fusion reactor but since
it is not radioactive it would not produce dangerous waste, according to
the European Space Agency.
Rocket booster with Luna-25 lunar lander blasts off at Vostochny Cosmodrome
A Soyuz-2.1b rocket booster with a Fregat upper stage and the lunar
landing spacecraft Luna-25 blasts off from a launchpad at the Vostochny
Cosmodrome in the far eastern Amur region, Russia, August 11, 2023.
Roscosmos/Vostochny Space Centre/Handout via REUTERS
RARE EARTH METALS
Rare earth metals - used in smartphones, computers and advanced
technologies - are present on the moon, including scandium, yttrium and
the 15 lanthanides, according to research by Boeing.
HOW WOULD MOON MINING WORK?
It is not entirely clear.
Some sort of infrastructure would have to be established on the moon.
The conditions of the moon mean robots would have to do most of the hard
work, though water on the moon would allow for long-term human presence.
WHAT IS THE LAW?
The law is unclear and full of gaps.
The United Nations 1966 Outer Space Treaty says that no nation can claim
sovereignty over the moon - or other celestial bodies - and that the
exploration of space should be carried out for the benefit of all countries.
But lawyers say it is unclear whether or not a private entity could
claim sovereignty over a part of the moon.
"Space mining is subject to relatively little existing policy or
governance, despite these potentially high stakes," The RAND Corporation
said in a blog last year.
The 1979 The Moon Agreement states that no part of the moon "shall
become property of any State, international intergovernmental or
non-governmental organization, national organization or non-governmental
entity or of any natural person."
It has not been ratified by any major space power.
The United States in 2020 announced the Artemis Accords, named after
NASA’s Artemis moon program, to seek to build on existing international
space law by establishing “safety zones" on the moon. Russia and China
have not joined the accords.
Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge Editing by Peter Graff
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
As Moscow bureau chief, Guy runs coverage of Russia and the Commonwealth
of Independent States. Before Moscow, Guy ran Brexit coverage as London
bureau chief (2012-2022). On the night of Brexit, his team delivered one
of Reuters historic wins - reporting news of Brexit first to the world
and the financial markets. Guy graduated from the London School of
Economics and started his career as an intern at Bloomberg. He has spent
over 14 years covering the former Soviet Union. He speaks fluent
Russian. Contact: +447825218698