May 2009

Turning fiction into reality

Opportunities for mining the moon

By G. Baiden

An artist’s rendering of what space-based solar panels may look like

This article presents a futuristic scenario in which readers are transported forward in time. This optimistic outlook demonstrates how the answer to some of humanity’s challenges might lie in the stars — or, at least, on the moon.

The year is 2040 and I am standing in our newly commissioned Lunar Mining Operations Centre (LMOC) in the heart of Canada’s mining capital, Sudbury, recalling those initial meetings early in the century, when many ideas were being proposed about how to mine the moon. At the time, people were concerned about where our future energy requirements were going to come from. Bold plans were made in those early days that pushed the boundaries of our technological abilities, and some of those plans involved the moon. In particular, they entailed the creation of space-based solar power and the lunar mining of hydrogen.

Here comes the sun

Many early twenty-first century scientists had proposed space-based solar power. The idea was to create orbiting solar panels that beamed totally “green” power back to earth using microwaves or light. This power was put directly on the grid, much in the way hydroelectric plants did at the turn of the century. The project resulted in the creation of technologies necessary to teleconstruct these orbiting power plants and represented the largest engineering undertaking in space history. But the gamble paid off as the system now provides enough power to enable a higher standard of living for most of humanity than during any time in the history of civilization.

Going underground

The success of the private/public partnership to build orbiting space solar power was accompanied by increased confidence. New space mining companies turned their eye to the moon with ideas of extracting the water it felt would propel the orbital transportation fleet of the space age. International space agencies collaborated to enhance our scientific understanding of the moon and options regarding the construction of lunar outposts.

After careful study, subterranean outposts became the preferred approach due to the environmental complications associated with putting personnel on the surface of the moon, such as exposure to radiation and solar flares. Much of the outpost construction was done with teleoperated rock construction robots that were controlled from earth.

These safe and secure underground facilities can now be used to develop experimental in-situ agricultural techniques that will enable long-term, self-sustaining lunar operations and new scientific exploration facilities such as the latest telescopes for observing the solar system. This has significantly reduced the amount of personnel necessary for mining, construction and manufacturing that would have been necessary to be launched from earth.

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