China’s Moon Dust Paves the Way for Future Mining Missions | WSJ
China has long been shooting for the moon and these tiny lunar rocks brought back are one of the reasons why the moon is sort of a stepping stone for a lot of the bigger ambitious plans that they have far off in the future. These grains of lunar soil provide a glimpse into the valuable resources china wants to extract to use on earth. One day. High on its list is helium three, a rare substance the moon has a lot of, but even if there is that much helium three available on the moon, scientists have yet to figure out how to unlock its potential. But if one nation or one company, one group could figure out how to do it. That would be a game changer china isn’t alone. Nasa has also studied the possibility of using helium three to power the earth. And companies are working on grabbing a piece of the moon too. So to get ahead, china is developing heavy lift rockets and planning a lunar research base to get closer to one day mining the moon for rocks like this. At the end of 2020 china successfully brought back nearly £4 of lunar samples and later confirmed they contain traces of water. It’s not the first to make this discovery. Nasa did this 12 years ago. But from a distance with spacecraft orbiting the moon china on the other hand, went on the ground using a probe to analyze moon rocks in there undisturbed environment. It’s the first time this type of measurement was made on the moon, joseph Michalski is with the laboratory for space research at the University of Hong kong. And he’s been studying some of the lunar samples that were shared by the chinese government. He says china’s ability to do on site experiments is one of the first steps in moon mining that validates the connection between what’s measured on the ground versus in orbit and that opens up the door to land there and feel more confident. This confidence can help china locate a rare substance as it tries to lessen its dependence on coal and reach net zero emissions by 2060. The search for helium three comes at a time in which china is looking to diversify its energy mix and transition towards a cleaner energy landscape. China’s lunar exploration team said the moon has more than one million tons of helium three in the soil. Scientists say it has the potential to generate safer nuclear energy and a fusion reactor that isn’t radioactive and can be used to power the earth. But China’s research on helium three is still at a very early stage. Scientists still haven’t figured out how to map the lunar surface extract the substance then process it. Mm hmm. You guys. So this would require more complex missions involving not only robotic probes but also humans on the moon. Just the amount of infrastructure that humans need to survive is more than what robots need. So you need heavy lift rocket to get more of that stuff to the moon. Like you need a lot of thrust to lift large payloads and also to move quickly so that you can get humans from here to the moon in days, not weeks. China hasn’t launched one yet. But the country’s largest state owned space firm said in october that it successfully test fired a solid fueled motor. The china Academy of Launch vehicle Technology said one day China’s heavy lift rockets would be capable of carrying a payload of 150 tons to low earth orbit. And if all goes as planned, this is what china says its research base on the moon could look like we are here for the long term exploration. This is China’s animation of the International Lunar Research Station. It’s planning to build it with Russia and have it operational by 2035. Based on the blueprint, the base would be equipped with communication, okay. Energy and exploration facilities to help mine the moon. What is likely to happen is to build an initial module and then do it sort of like a style. In other words you have a small one base that you have a bigger one. Then you have a village and then you have a city and we carry them. But there are a lot of unpredictability is ahead amid Moscow’s war in Ukraine projects between the Russian space agency and Western partners have been suspended and that could affect Russian research and its work with china, it’s very hard to say how or when they can achieve this, but when it comes to helium three, there’s so many points that must be aligned in order for it to be a reality. Plus the industry of moon mining is becoming crowded. Nasa is working with commercial companies to collect lunar samples as well as startups in europe. But there’s one thing that may put China’s mission ahead in this race, the full support of the government. They don’t really have the change of hands in government as frequently. There’s not so much political pressure on budget cuts on this. They’re able to really look at things in a very long term way, which is very advantageous because exploring spaces is long term, limitless endeavor.