February 2009

Lunar mining and processing outpost

An explanation of the blue-sky thinking that is depicted on the cover of this month's issue

By G. Baiden

The CIM Magazine cover picture depicts an artist’s impression of a uniquely Canadian approach to the building and operation of a lunar mining and processing outpost. In this concept, miners teleoperate equipment located on the lunar surface from the safety of an underground facility, protected from the hazards of radiation, solar flares, micro meteorites and extreme temperature fluctuation.

Penguin Automated Systems Inc. is investigating new, enhanced approaches to the construction of surface and underground lunar facilities. Using mining and processing techniques currently being used in Canada, this research could represent an important step towards enabling the commission and emplacement of vital lunar support infrastructure before human settlers arrive.

In this model, the majority of the construction could be performed remotely from earth, eliminating exposure to hazardous environments and the requirement for lengthy stays on the moon by astronauts. This would dramatically reduce the risk associated with human planetary exploration, construction and mining. Once the majority of the construction is complete, astronauts could move into the outpost to conduct scientific research, prospecting, exploration, mining and processing, turning lunar resources into products such as water, rocket propellant, metals, ceramics, glass and solar cells.

In addition, a safe and secure underground facility could also be used to develop experimental in-situ agricultural techniques that would enable long-term, self-sustaining lunar operations. This approach could significantly reduce the number of personnel that would need to be launched from earth for mining, construction and manufacturing purposes.

The base could continuously grow into a much larger facility by utilizing in-situ resources to support underground farming and the manufacture of power system elements, building materials and repair components, all from within a protected underground environment.

The May instalment of “new frontiers of mining” will expand upon the concepts presented in this discussion.

Greg Baiden is the Canadian Research Chair in robotics and mine automation at Laurentian University and CTO of Penguin Automated Systems Inc. He has been developing ideas surrounding mining robotics and automation in harsh environments, on earth, undersea and in space for nearly 30 years in both the private and public sectors.

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