Mining on the Moon

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Post Tue Aug 10, 2010 11:53 pm

Mining on the Moon

Hooray! I get to start the first thread in this section.

It seems to me that the discovery last year of water ice on the Moon has changed the whole situation with regard to human space exploration and colonization. If there is enough ice, then (as many have already pointed out) it could be mined, and used for oxygen to breath, water to drink and irrigate plants, and hydrogen for rocket fuel. This could all be done on the lunar surface, using solar power.

This would make lunar colonies much cheaper and more practical than if all the water needed had to be transported from Earth. However, it isn't only lunar colonies that become more viable as a result of this discovery. The ability to make oxygen and hydrogen on the low-gravity Moon would be an enormous boost to manned space travel to other parts of the Solar System, such as Mars. Why schlep all the water, oxygen and rocket fuel needed for long space voyages from the Earth's surface if you can get them all on the Moon?

It also occurs to me that a company prepared to build mining and processing facilities on the Moon to produce these three commodities could make an absolute fortune. Therefore even if nobody wanted to actually live on the Moon, I reckon that lunar mines might become very important indeed in 50-100 years time. Or maybe sooner?

If anyone has a couple of billion to spare, drop me a PM and we could get the ball rolling right now! :mrgreen:
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Post Wed Aug 11, 2010 2:01 am

Re: Mining on the Moon

Sorry I seem to have left my pocket book at home. :)

Yes, sounds great, but we don't yet know for sure if the ice is there in sufficient amounts, or in a form that would be economical to mine and process. It wouldn't exactly be cheap to do that, after all!
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Post Thu Aug 12, 2010 3:27 pm

Re: Mining on the Moon

Yes, I grant that we don't know for sure, but given that simply crashing one space probe into a more or less random shadow-filled crater sent up a big plume of water-related material, there must at least be a good chance that water is present in reasonable amounts. Let's assume for a moment that this is so.

Stephen Hawking says we need to colonize space in the next hundred years or so if we are going to survive as a species. Obviously he might be wrong, but let's also assume for a moment that he is right and there is a pressing need to have self-sustaining colonies in space.

There are three obvious locations for such colonies: the Moon, Mars and artificial satellites. We already have an artificial satellite colony - the ISS - and obviously a lot of experience is being gained. However, space stations can't be self-sustaining or self-expanding as they rely on resources being brought from elsewhere. Colonies on the Moon or on Mars, however, could in principle be self-sustaining using local resources - assuming that water ice is present on both. But which one should we be focusing our efforts on?

Mars has some advantages over the Moon as a second home for humanity: higher gravity (though still much lower than Earth) and more surface area. There are lots of iron compounds on the surface, so perhaps there might also be iron ore in a useable form, for making steel? Also Mars could at least in principle be terraformed one day, whereas the gravity on the Moon is probably too weak to retain an atmosphere for long.

If colonies are to be built on the Moon, then obviously mining lunar ice wold be crucial.
If colonies are to be built on Mars, then lunar ice might still be crucial if it provided a source of rocket fuel beyond the earth's gravity. I'm not sure about this, but am I right in thinking that there is a faster way and a slower way to Mars, and that the slow way relies on a gravitational slingshot effect, whereas the fast way relies on using lots of rocket fuel? If so, the lunar ice might allow us to go regularly to Mars the fast way, which would make the establishment of Mars colonies much more attractive? I'm not sure if I'm talking nonsense or not here. But if I'm right, the establishment of colonies on Mars might rely heavily on establishing ice mines and pocessing facilities on the Moon first. Does any of that make sense?
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Post Sat Aug 21, 2010 10:51 pm

Re: Mining on the Moon

OK, I wanted to know more about the advantages (if any) of using lunar ice for rocket fuel for trips to Mars.

Therefore I decided to ask the folks on the New Mars Forums, as (a) they are particularly interested in transport to Mars and (b) some of them seem to know an awful lot about the mechanics of space travel. I posted a question here:

http://www.newmars.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=8965

which has so far attracted about two pages of very interesting replied and debate.

I'm still trying to get my head around some of the arguments, claims and fuel usage diagrams posted there, but I think a consensus has emerged that:

a) lunar ice would make good rocket fuel
b) that it would make journeys to Mars cheaper
c) but that this would only be the case if the fuel (oxygen and hydrogen) was uplifted from the lunar surface to one of the Earth-Lunar Lagrangian Points (L1) where there would be a fuel depot. Therefore spacecraft from Earth to Mars would not travel via the Moon to pick up fuel there, but would instead travel from Earth to the fuel depot at Lagrangian point L1 to take on fuel for the journey to Mars.
d) That with cheaper and more plentiful fuel available, it would indeed be possible to take a slightly faster trip to Mars (ie the high cost route) but that - according to one poster anyway - it wouldn't be economic to reduce the Earth-Mars transit time much below 180 days. DLR wrote:

The cheapest, slowest way to Mars using conventional chemical rocket engines is a Hohmann orbit, it takes 260 days. You can speed up by expending more propellant, but it is not practical to reduce the trip time to much below 180 days because above that, the propellant requirements simply become too great.


But there is a lot more detail in some of the posts in that thread, and other interesting comments too. And there is an article about Lagrange points on Wikipedia here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lagrange_point
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Post Sun Aug 22, 2010 12:42 am

Re: Mining on the Moon

Thanks for the link to the thread on that other forum. You had a good idea asking that question there.
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Post Sun Aug 22, 2010 12:46 am

Re: Mining on the Moon

The oxygen and hydrogen from the Moon isn't just going to go up to the Lagrange point in a big pipe, though. It'll need to be transported there in some kind of big tanker craft from the Moon. And the big tanker craft will have to be built and sent to the Moon in the first place,and kept in operation and repair there. This will all cost a lot of money, so that ought to be factored into any calculation of whether lunar ice is going to make it cheaper to get to Mars.

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Post Mon Aug 23, 2010 1:45 am

Re: Mining on the Moon

180 days to go to Mars sounds a lot, but how long did it take to sail from England to Australia in the early days? I bet it wasnt a lot less.

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Post Mon Aug 23, 2010 12:56 pm

Re: Mining on the Moon

I love the sound of that, an interplanetary gas station on the way to Mars. Will there be slushies?

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Post Mon Aug 23, 2010 1:01 pm

Re: Mining on the Moon

Haha good fun reading these two guys go at it about it though. Does Hop draw all his own pictures?

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Post Mon Aug 23, 2010 1:04 pm

Re: Mining on the Moon

I should really decide what it is I want to say before posting, but here's my third post!
I only skimmed over a lot of the arguments. Did they mention anything about a mass driver?
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