Friday, July 22, 2011

Lunar Mining Part One.

This post originally appeared on our GLXP blog.

One of the reasons that often gets thrown around for going to the Moon is lunar resource extraction. The different resources thrown around are myriad, but there are generally two that are given special attention. The first is Helium-3. The second resource are metals - platinum group metals and rare earth elements - for terrestrial use.

We tackled Helium-3 chimera in a past guest posting by the team friend, James Nicoll. It turns out that He-3 is actually a bad bet for a resource to mine on the Moon. Subsequently, at least one post has appeared since that has backed our position. We hope that we can lay that tired chimera to rest.

That said, there is a second potential resource class, if you will, that is often touted for lunar extraction. These are industrially useful metals. Ones that have high prices and are likely to have an increasing market often attract interest. There are two sets of metals that fit the current vogue for lunar extraction: Platinum Group Metals (PGM) and Rare Earth Elements (REE). Platinum has a current market price in excess of $56,000/kg as of the time of this writing. Europium has a current market price in excess of $3,200/kg and seems likely to rise.

With those market prices in mind, Team Phoenicia set out to investigate whether or not it was worthwhile to attempt to help jump start a lunar mining industry. We interviewed those involved in the mining industry, both in PGMs and REEs. We dug into the technical, regulatory, and financial requirements for mining and what more would be needed to start a lunar equivalent.

Could it be made profitable? Would it be profitable? Should this guide our instrument package on our final rover, Victory on Pangaea? The subsequent posts in this series will explore the topic. We invite you to follow along and see what we found out for ourselves and how it impacts any potential Moon Miner.

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