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The challenges of extraterrestrial mining

3 episodes
  • 1
    Mining in space: can we do it?
  • 2
    Mining resources on the moon for space missions
  • 3
    Helium-3 from the lunar surface for nuclear fusion?
Épisode 1/3
Pierre Henriquet, Doctor in Nuclear Physics
On May 17th, 2022
4 mins reading time
Pierre Henriquet
Pierre Henriquet
Doctor in Nuclear Physics

Key takeaways

  • Extraterrestrial minerals are attractive; the scarcity of resources on Earth could lead us to look to space.
  • The metallic asteroid Psyche (about 200 km wide), for example, contains about 50% metal, a total amount equivalent to millions of years of our annual global iron and nickel production.
  • The legislative framework around extraterrestrial mining is very unclear. Many countries such as the United States, Luxembourg and the United Arab Emirates are working on legislation to regulate it.
  • Whatever the interest of the public or private sector in the development of extraterrestrial resource extraction activities, it must be recognised that the task is far from easy
Épisode 2/3
Sophy Caulier, Independant journalist
On May 17th, 2022
4 mins reading time
Gerald Sanders
Gerald Sanders
In-situ resource utilisation (ISRU) system capability manager at NASA

Key takeaways

  • It takes three days to get to or from the Moon and the journey to Mars takes between six and eight months.
  • For long-duration space exploration missions, astronauts will have to find or produce enough resources to sustain themselves.
  • The In Situ Resource Utilisation (ISRU) programme is developing techniques to locate, extract, process and exploit local resources.
  • Today, developments are focusing on methane or hydrogen fuel production.
  • There are four main challenges: knowing what resources are available; how to exploit them; controlling the environment; and ensuring reliability of the project.
Épisode 3/3
Florian Vidal, researcher at the French Institute of International Relations
On May 17th, 2022
4 mins reading time
Florian Vidal
Florian Vidal
researcher at the French Institute of International Relations

Key takeaways

  • Dominated by the growing competition between the United States and China, a return to the Moon is now motivated by the study and exploitation of its resources
  • One of the main resources coveted by major powers and located on the Moon is helium-3, an isotope that is known since 1988 to be useful for nuclear fusion.
  • Technological and financial barriers are slowing down hopes of using lunar soil as a resource.
  • However, efforts remains open-ended, particularly with massive investments in projects like Artemis or TechTheMoon.

Contributors

Pierre Henriquet

Pierre Henriquet

Doctor in Nuclear Physics

After a doctorate in Nuclear Physics applied to Medicine and a university degree in Astronomy/Astrophysics, Pierre Henriquet worked for 10 years at the Planetarium of the city of Vaulx-en-Velin where he perfected his talents as a populariser with multiple audiences, both novices and specialists. Today, he is a freelance writer and mediator of science.

Sophy Caulier

Sophy Caulier

Independant journalist

Sophy Caulier has a degree in Literature (University Paris Diderot) and in Computer science (University Sorbonne Paris Nord). She began her career as an editorial journalist at 'Industrie & Technologies' and then at 01 Informatique. She is now a freelance journalist for daily newspapers (Les Echos, La Tribune), specialised and non-specialised magazines and websites. She writes about digital technology, economics, management, industry and space. Today, she writes mainly for Le Monde and The Good Life.

Florian Vidal

Florian Vidal

researcher at the French Institute of International Relations

work focuses on resources and governance in the Anthropocene, in particular mining issues in remote areas. He is also an associate researcher at the Interdisciplinary Laboratory of Future Energies (University of Paris).