By David Middleton – Re-Blogged From WUWT
I had to take a break from writing the sequel to How Climate Change Buried a Desert 20,000 Feet Beneath the Gulf of Mexico Seafloor after running across this gem on Real Clear Science this morning…
Malthusians in Space!
From The Grauniad’s “You Couldn’t Make This Sort of Schist Up If You Were Trying Desk”….
Protect solar system from mining ‘gold rush’, say scientists
Proposal calls for wilderness protection as startup space miners look to the stars
Ian Sample Science editor
Sun 12 May 2019 13.24 EDT
Great swathes of the solar system should be preserved as official “space wilderness” to protect planets, moons and other heavenly bodies from rampant mining and other forms of industrial exploitation, scientists say.
The proposal calls for more than 85% of the solar system to be placed off-limits to human development, leaving little more than an eighth for space firms to mine for precious metals, minerals and other valuable materials.
While the limit would protect pristine worlds from the worst excesses of human activity, its primary goal is to ensure that humanity avoids a catastrophic future in which all of the resources within its reach are permanently used up.
“If we don’t think about this now, we will go ahead as we always have, and in a few hundred years we will face an extreme crisis, much worse than we have on Earth now,” said Martin Elvis, a senior astrophysicist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “Once you’ve exploited the solar system, there’s nowhere left to go.”
I was going to ridicule this article… But then I realized that it was self-ridiculing. Literally, every sentence is stupid. I am literally marveling in this article…
Elvis in Space!
Working with Tony Milligan, a philosopher at King’s College London, Elvis analysed how soon humans might use up the solar system’s most accessible resources should space mining take off.
Elvis has left the planet…
Because humans might struggle to mine the sun, or extract useful materials from Jupiter, a gas giant with more mass than the rest of the solar system’s planets combined, the researchers see asteroids, the moon, Mars and other rocky planets as the most realistic targets for space miners.
Elvis and the philosopher
“Do we want cities on the near side of the moon that light up at night? Would that be inspiring or horrifying?”
We certainly wouldn’t want the Moon to be lit up at night. This would be horrifying…
A dose of reality
There’s Helium-3 in them thar regoliths
What would we mine on the Moon?
The presence of helium-3 was confirmed in moon samples returned by the Apollo missions, and Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt, a geologist who walked on the moon in December 1972, is an avid proponent of mining helium-3.
“It is thought that this isotope could provide safer nuclear energy in a fusion reactor, since it is not radioactive and would not produce dangerous waste products,’’ the European Space Agency said.
There are an estimated 1 million metric tons of helium-3 embedded in the moon, though only about a quarter of that realistically could be brought to Earth, said Gerald Kulcinski, director of the Fusion Technology Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a former member of the NASA Advisory Council.
That’s still enough to meet the world’s current energy demands for at least two, and possibly as many as five, centuries, Kulcinski said. He estimated helium-3’s value at about $5 billion a ton, meaning 250,000 tons would be worth in the trillions of dollars.
How would it affect the Moon if we removed 250,000 metric tons of 3He from the lunar regolith?
Apollo samples collected in 1969 by Neil Armstrong on the first lunar landing, and other samples collected on later missions, have shown that helium-3 concentrations in many lunar soils are at least thirteen parts per billion by weight. Detailed analyses of lunar soil samples and other evidence indicate that in situ helium-3 concentrations probably range between twenty and thirty parts per billion in undisturbed, titanium-rich soils (Schmitt, 2006, pp. 86-92). Schmitt concludes that helium-3 averages about 20ppb in the titanium-rich impact commutated basalt regolith, of Mare Tranquillitatis sampled by Apollo 11. Extrapolation of data from neutron spectrographic measurements of hydrogen concentrations in lunar polar regions (Feldman, et al, 1998; Maurice, S., et al, 2004) indicate that helium-3 may triple in average abundance at latitudes above 70 due to cold trapping (Schmitt, et al, 2000; Cocks, personal communication, 2009).
Twenty parts per billion may not seem like much; however, the value of helium-3 relative to the probable energy equivalent value of coal in 2010-2020, estimated conservatively at $2.50 per million BTU (0.25 x 106kcal) will be almost $1400 per gram ($40,000 per ounce)! This compares with about $28 per gram ($800 per ounce) for gold at the beginning of 2009. At $1400 per gram, one hundred kilograms (220 pounds) of helium-3 would be worth about $140 million. One hundred kilograms constitutes more than enough fuel to potentially power a 1000 megawatt electric plant for a year when fused with deuterium, the terrestrially abundant heavy isotope of hydrogen.
The production of a hundred kilograms (220 pounds) of helium-3 per year would require annual mining and processing of about two square kilometers (1.6 sq. mi.) of the lunar surface to a depth of three meters (9.8 ft.) (Schmitt, 2006, pp. 92-98). In turn, that annual rate requires hourly mining of an area about twenty-eight meters square (92 ft.) and three meters (9.1 ft.) deep along with the hourly processing of the finest fifty percent of the mined soil (about 2000 tonnes/hour or 4400 ton/hour) to extract its gases. This is not a high mining and processing rate by terrestrial standards, although a high degree of automation will be required on the Moon relative to mining and processing of raw materials on Earth. The annual rate only mandates two, ten-hour mining shifts per day, twenty days out of each lunar month (about twenty-seven Earth-days long). If experience shows that preventive and actual maintenance takes less than seven days per lunar month, then mining and processing rates can be higher. Personnel needed per miner-processor are estimated at an average of eight, including operations, maintenance and support crew (Schmitt, 2006, pp. 134-137).
Pretend for a moment that significant figures don’t matter…
- 2 km2 x 0.003 km —> 100 kg 3He
- 0.006 km3 —> 100 kg 3He
- 6 km3 —> 1 metric ton 3He
- 1,500,000 km3 —> 250,000 metric ton 3He
What’s the volume of the Moon? 21,900,000,000 km3 … The removal of 0.007% of the Moon could provide all of mankind’s energy needs for 200-500 years. 99.993% of the moon would be unaffected. What’s that? We would be scarring the Moon with holes?
If digging up 5,000 km2 of the lunar regolith would yield enough 3He to power our civilization for 200 to 500 years… I say, “Go for it!”… particularly since there are already holes on the Moon much larger than the ones we would dig.
Biggest, Deepest Crater Exposes Hidden, Ancient Moon
Shortly after the Moon formed, an asteroid smacked into its southern hemisphere and gouged out a truly enormous crater, the South Pole-Aitken basin, almost 1,500 miles across and more than five miles deep.
“This is the biggest, deepest crater on the Moon — an abyss that could engulf the United States from the East Coast through Texas,” said Noah Petro of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The impact punched into the layers of the lunar crust, scattering that material across the Moon and into space. The tremendous heat of the impact also melted part of the floor of the crater, turning it into a sea of molten rock.
That was just an opening shot. Asteroid bombardment over billions of years has left the lunar surface pockmarked with craters of all sizes, and covered with solidified lava, rubble, and dust. Glimpses of the original surface, or crust, are rare, and views into the deep crust are rarer still.
Fortunately, a crater on the edge of the South Pole-Aitken basin may provide just such a view. Called the Apollo Basin and formed by the later impact of a smaller asteroid, it still measures a respectable 300 miles across.
The lunar surface has an area of about 235 million km2 . The Aitken basin covers 4.6 million km2 . The Moon can spare 5,000 km2 of regolith.