Moon rich in nat­u­ral re­sources, ex­perts say

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - NATION - By ZHAO LEI zhaolei@chi­

With the land­ing of China’s lu­nar probe Chang’e-3 on the moon, ex­perts have be­gun to cal­cu­late the wealth of re­sources that lies be­neath the lu­nar sur­face.

“The Chang’e-3 probe’s suc­cess­ful soft land­ing and the op­er­a­tions of the lu­nar rover Yutu mark a new chap­ter in man’s ex­plo­ration of the moon, a stride in China’s sci­en­tific and tech­no­log­i­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties, and a con­crete step to­ward the peace­ful de­vel­op­ment of the moon,” said Wang Ya’nan, deputy ed­i­tor-in-chief at Aero­space Knowl­edge mag­a­zine.

Wang said the moon has abun­dant min­eral re­sources in­clud­ing ti­ta­nium, sil­i­con and alu­minum.

“The most valu­able is he­lium-3, an ideal fuel for fu­ture nu­clear fu­sion power plants. There is an es­ti­mated 15 to 20 met­ric tons of he­lium- 3 on Earth to be ex­ploited, but the re­serve on the moon is at least 1 mil­lion met­ric tons,” he said.

Nu­clear re­ac­tors fu­eled by he­lium-3 will be much cleaner and greener than to­day’s fis­sion- based plants, which con­sume ura­nium, Wang said.

He cited a NASA re­port that a fu­sion power re­ac­tor us­ing he­lium- 3 and deu­terium, which can be ex­tracted from sea­wa­ter, will gen­er­ate only a very small amount of ra­dioac­tiv­ity, equiv­a­lent to that pro­duced by the ra­di­o­log­i­cal medicine de­part­ments of hos­pi­tals. Used in such a plant, he­lium-3 would pro­duce so much en­ergy that only 20 tons would be needed to sup­ply all the elec­tric­ity used in a large na­tion in a year.

Wu Weiren, chief de­signer of China’s lu­nar probe pro­gram, had sim­i­lar thoughts, say­ing he­lium- 3 is a very promis­ing source of en­ergy that could help the world shed its re­liance on fos­sil fu­els.

He said the Chang’e-1 and Chang’e-2 satel­lites had sur­veyed the moon’s he­lium- 3 re­serves, con­clud­ing that there could be up to 5 mil­lion tons.

How­ever, the tech­no­log­i­cal dif­fi­cul­ties in ex­tract­ing such re­serves and trans­port­ing the he­lium-3 back to Earth mean that progress will be slow, Wu added.

Fur­ther ben­e­fits

Another clean and ef­fec­tive source of power would in­volve the col­lec­tion of so­lar en­ergy on the moon’s sur­face for trans­fer to Earth, Wang said.

There is an es­ti­mated 15 to 20 met­ric tons of he­lium-3 on Earth to be ex­ploited but the re­serve on the moon is at least 1 mil­lion met­ric tons.” WANG YA’NAN DEPUTY ED­I­TOR-IN-CHIEF AT AERO­SPACE KNOWL­EDGE MAG­A­ZINE

The lack of air on the moon means that so­lar pan­els would be ex­posed to much more in­tense sun­light, un­ob­structed by the fil­ter­ing ef­fects of at­mo­spheric gasses, cloud cover and other weather events, said Wang.

The ab­sence of an at­mo­spheric layer on the moon also makes it an ideal place to con­duct space ob­ser­va­tion. With­out the in­ter­fer­ence of man- made elec­tro­mag­netic sig­nals, lights and nat­u­ral el­e­ments such as rain and clouds, lu­nar ob­ser­va­to­ries could take clearer im­ages and send sig­nals fur­ther into space.

Mean­while, the lack of an at­mos­phere means that ob­ser­va­to­ries would not need adap­tive op­tics, which are very ex­pen­sive. He sug­gested that the en­vi­ron­ment on the moon is more sta­ble than that on Earth, mak­ing sav­ings in the cost of in­fra­struc­ture and equip­ment pos­si­ble.

An ob­server of China’s space pro­grams at Bei­hang Univer­sity in Bei­jing, who wished to be iden­ti­fied only as Wu, said the ex­ploita­tion of he­lium-3 and the main­te­nance of ob­ser­va­to­ries on the moon would re­quire as­tro­nauts to re­main there for long pe­ri­ods.

“Though it might sound sur­real and like fic­tion, I think we will see the es­tab­lish­ment of at least one lu­nar out­post in our life­time,” the 30-some­thing re­searcher said. “It is nec­es­sary if you want to mine re­sources or per­form largescale ex­per­i­ments on the moon.”

In ad­di­tion, there are ben­e­fits to es­tab­lish­ing a launch center on the moon, Wu said.

“The grav­ity on the moon is about one-sixth of that on our planet, so if we can launch a rocket from the moon, it will fly much far­ther than one launched from Earth.”

Ouyang Ziyuan, a se­nior ad­viser to China’s lu­nar pro­gram, said the moon’s spe­cial en­vi­ron­ment will fa­cil­i­tate the de­vel­op­ment of new ma­te­ri­als and bi­o­log­i­cal prod­ucts.

He said many tech­nolo­gies in­vented for space ex­plo­ration have been adopted in civil sec­tors to im­prove the daily lives of peo­ple.

“A lot of things we are fa­mil­iar with in our daily life, such as X-ray com­puted to­mog­ra­phy and so­lar wa­ter heaters, were in­vented us­ing space tech­nolo­gies,” he said.

Nearly 80 per­cent of ma­te­ri­als China has de­vel­oped since 1949 have pri­mar­ily served the na­tional space pro­grams, said Pang Zhi­hao, a re­searcher at the China Academy of Space Tech­nol­ogy.

Pang said new ma­te­ri­als used on the Chang’e-3 probe are char­ac­ter­ized by their light­ness and re­sis­tance to ex­treme tem­per­a­tures, and so have huge po­ten­tial in civil sec­tors.

The ad­vanced re­mote con­trol and au­to­mated ma­neu­ver tech­nolo­gies that played key roles in the Chang’e- 3 mis­sion will boost the de­vel­op­ment of un­manned aerial ve­hi­cle sys­tems, ac­cord­ing to Wang.

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