Former astronaut, Apollo moonwalker, geologist and former Senator Harrison Schmitt has a modest plan to solve the world's energy problems. All we need is $15 billion over 15 years and some fusion reactors that have yet to be invented. And we'll need a moon base.
Schmitt's idea isn't novel--he thinks the U.S. should go back to the moon, this time to mine the surface for helium-3, an isotope of helium that is rare on earth but relatively bountiful on the moon. The Russians have been talking about mining helium-3 from the moon for years, but they've never put forth a viable plan. Schmitt thinks his, all things considered, is pretty realistic.
So how does Schmitt's plan break down? We'll need $5 billion for a helium-3 fusion demonstration plant, because as of right now no such thing exists. We'll also need to invest $5 billion more in a heavy-lift rocket capable of launching regular moon missions, something akin to the Apollo-era Saturn V.
A moon base for mining the stuff would cost another $2.5 billion, and though Schmitt didn't really specify in his recent presentation to a petroleum conference, the other $2.5 billion could easily be chalked up to operating costs in an endeavor of this magnitude.
But it could pay for itself while developing critical spaceflight technologies and enabling a mission to Mars. Schmitt says a two-square-kilometer swath of lunar surface mined to a depth of roughly 10 feet would yield about 220 pounds of helium-3. That's enough to run a 1,000-megawatt reactor for a year, or $140 million in energy based on today's coal prices. Scale that up to several reactors, and you've got a moneymaking operation.
Why go to all this trouble? Helium-3 is abundant on the moon and produces little to no radioactive waste that must be cleaned up and stored. The reaction necessary would burn at a much hotter temperature than other fusion reactions, but the chance of environmental disaster via radioactive spill is virtually nil. Plus we would establish a permanent presence on the moon.
Throw in another $5 billion, and we might even be able to populate said moon base with a clone work force and some soothing, Kevin Spacey-esque AI.
Why the delay? It's available and can be mined with robotic mining machines.
Gosh, just a simple oh bucket of money and we are there. It sounds so easy and simple. All we need is money. Weeeee!
And the numbers are so round and perfect too. Our budget is in the Trillions so billions should be easy. We could even as Bill Gates. This amount of billions should be easy pocket money for him. It all is so easy, YEA!!!!
I am going to close my eyes and click my heels together now and everything will come true!!!!
It's far from the craziest plan running through Capitol Hill- we have a ton of out of work NASA personnel that would love to get back to work...
Like the idea of Moon bases, but the He3 is unnecessary. LPPhysics.com should have 5MW fusion mini-generators (boron-hydrogen) ready to go in about 5 yrs. About 3-4 per $1million. That would be 45,000 - 60,000 for the $15billion.
Funny story, my Dad dated Mr. Schmitts wife back when they were in high school. Just a funny tidbit to share with my fellow scifier's.
What Is Science but A Continual Lesson of The Challenge To Studying The Entire Known Existence of Everything.
Something that is more relevant is mining the moon for H3 to use for propulsion to the stars. Fusion reaction with H3 is a much easier way to extract out energy than any other type of fusion reaction.
A fusion reactor can get a spacecraft up to 10 percent the speed of light getting us to our closes neighbor stars is as little as 43 years, about the age of the Pioneer spacecraft that left earth in 1972 to tour our outer planets.
please everyone knows the cost would quadruple once they started working on this.
Why does his plan need the He3 fusion prototype?
Mining the He3 doesn't need a fusion reactor to be developed. In fact it would probably require a substantial amount to have been mined before the reactor could be developed.
The prototype would be run on H3 derived from Earth (we do have some, just not as much as the moon). A proof-of-concept on the usefulness of H3 would be needed to justify the further costs.
Also, at 140mil per unit of production means that it would take 100 years for this project to break even without scale-up. I also do not see the cost of ferrying the H3 and supplies back and forth from Earth - maybe the extra 2.5bil is there.
Still, another two decades or so and autonomous robotics would remove the need to send people to the moon at all, reducing costs signifigantly.
yes mining the moon is necessary for us as a species to strive in space. we just got to be extra careful and not destroy the moon in the process since its essential to life on earth.
I agree with JediMindset. A robotic processing facility on the moon could support a base that would be the jumping off place for exploration.
15 billion - that's how much large investment houses makes in what...a year? A quarter of a year? What about the maker of that computer company we all know and love - they made that off the i phone right? Doable...
companies like spacex with nasa's cooperation will keep the price down, private enterprise is perfect for these projects
I really hope this kicks off. I don't know much about fusion other than it's cleaner environmentally and anything that could replace fossil fuels as man-kinds primary energy source, is BIG money. Looking at this article from a strictly business perspective you'd have to be a fool not to invest in it. Buying stock in the moon mining business alone could probably make you a billionaire, assuming you invest enough, early enough. Everything about this looks promising but the only thing holding it back is money. I'd start this business in a heartbeat if i had $15billion.
Nickles and Dimes to Uncle Sam. Especially since the U.S. would have so much to gain by cornering the market on fusion-generated energy. It would not only break America's dependence on foreign oil but would turn the tables.
This is a pretty bold statement but, America already owns the moon anyway. We were the first ones there and we planted our flag on it (That is obviously open for debate). A country has every right to take full advantage of every resource within it's boundaries and the helium on the moon should be no exception.
From an environmental perspective it's plain as day, no radiation means we won't have to worry about spillage. That means there will never be another chernobyl or 3-mile island or Fukushima Daiichi. Hell, the sun is powered by fusion reactions, so in that way we have fusion to thank for life itself. Environmentalist weenies couldn't possibly complain. Atleast, not about the fusion energy itself.
The there is the technology. Once you start making money from outerspace you start thinking of cheaper ways to get there. How far could you travel in a space ship powered by fusion? Pretty far i'd bet. More down-to-earth technologies too. What about fusion powered cars? we already have hydrogen powered cars so thats not much of a stretch. This could be the beginning of a new era. "The Fusion Era".
Or this could go nowhere and man will continue to be dependant on fossil-fuels, and burn away our atmosphere and eventually bring about our own destruction from war or pollution. I'm really hoping for the fusion thing though.
Just goes to show it matters more who you are than what you know. We can have cheap pollution-free energy right here on earth with already proven technology for a fraction of the price of this project. And we have already spent more than double that money on fusion without success.
Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactors were invented in the 1960s but abandoned because they weren't suitable for building bombs. Thorium is presently a waste product from mining, especially from rare-earth mines, it is literally free. LFTRs produce no long term radio-active waste. Thorium does not have to be "enriched" for use in an LFTR unlike the expensive process required for uranium. See energyfromthorium.com
I must have missed something, but how does this make money? Since it costs about a million dollars a pound to take something back from the moon, how much is Helium 3 worth? Be sure to subtract the overhead costs from profit, and the delivery costs. It looks like a hobby at best.