Our nearest natural satellite, the moon, contains vast deposits of useful minerals and elements worth billions of dollars. Since billions of humans on earth have an insatiable desire for mineral resources, some intelligent minds have already started looking towards the moon as a source.
Elements on the Moon
Elements and metals confirmed to be present on the moon’s surface include oxygen, hydrogen, silicon, calcium, magnesium, iron, aluminum, titanium, and manganese. There is also a considerable reserve of rare earth metals on the moon. Here is a quick breakdown of the essential metals and elements on the moon:
- Iron: It is present in copious quantities in the mare basalts but is seen mainly inside silicate minerals like olivine and pyroxene. Inside the regoliths are also some free iron occurring as natural alloys with cobalt and nickel. This iron can be used in selective laser melting, 3D printing, selective laser sintering, and additive manufacturing.
- Titanium: This is one of the most useful metals for humanity. It is instrumental in aerospace engineering, and on the moon, it occurs primarily as the mineral called ilmenite. The Mare Tranquilitatis has some of the most massive quantities of titanium on the lunar body. The titanium on the moon is so much that it is ten times more than the one found on earth.
- Aluminum: On the moon, this mineral occurs as anorthite, which is a compound that also contains calcium, silicon, aluminum, and oxygen. This metal is perfect for electrical conductivity and has extensive application in rocketry and aerospace engineering.
- Magnesium: It is seen mainly in the magmas and minerals of the moon like olivine and pyroxene. Scientists believe that magnesium is in higher quantities in the lower layers of the lunar crust. Magnesium is of tremendous importance in the automotive, aerospace, and electronics industries.
- Calcium: This is one of the most abundant elements found on the lunar body’s highlands, mainly as anorthite minerals. Calcium compounds are suitable for the production of ceramics and electrical conductors in cases where oxygen is absent.
- Anorthite: Anorthite is rarely found on our planet but it is everywhere on the moon. The calcium can also be utilized for the production of silicon-based solar cells that need other items like iron, aluminum, calcium, titanium oxide, and silicon.
- Silicon: It is found in abundance in all materials on the moon. It can be used in the production of arrays for solar panels in addition to other substances like glass, ceramics, and fiberglass.
On earth, China produces close to 100% of the rare earth metals in use. These are some of the most important metals/elements in nature, and they are used in the production of electronic gadgets, wind turbines, hybrid or electric vehicles, and clean energy technology systems. Examples of these metals include yttrium and scandium.
Apart from all that has been mentioned above, some other materials that can be mined on the moon include water, which can be used for rocket fuel in space, and helium-3, a very rare element that can be used for nuclear fusion.
Mining on the Moon
Scientists and entrepreneurs are very much interested in mining these elements and minerals that are on the moon. From what many initially thought was barren and dusty rock, the moon is now seen as a significant source of minerals and elements but there are considerable challenges in mining anything on the moon.
Even though it poses considerable challenges to human beings, mining on the moon is not an impossibility. Private companies like SpaceX are already working on plans to achieve this. There will be lunar mining colonies, and the introduction of reusable rockets will handle the challenge of hefty launch costs. Here are some of the possible ways to do lunar mining:
- 3D Printing
Before lunar mining can happen, there is the need for the infrastructure, and one way to get this done is to use 3D printers once the materials are on the moon itself.
- Helium-3 Storage Facility
Transporting massive quantities of lunar soil to the earth for processing does not make any sense. The gas is going to be generated right on the lunar surface and stored in reservoirs.
- Robot Miners
The use of autonomous robots that need little or no control from humans will significantly reduce the cost of lunar mining operations.
- Lunar Mining Bases
Since there is water on the moon, there is a possibility of having humans stay on long-term in lunar bases designed for mining operations; this will significantly solve logistics problems.
Importance of Mining on the Moon
Mining resources on the moon can significantly help sustain the moon’s exploration while also boosting scientific and economic activity on both the lunar body and the earth. The resources can be transported down to earth, where they would contribute immensely to the global economy. The metals and some of the other elements are particularly good for use in the local industries, creating more jobs, generating more revenue, and increasing productivity.