Details Technical Plans Toward Mining The Moon For Precious Planetary Resources
A mission design package providing NASA with data on the development of commercial lunar missions and plans to mine the Moon for precious planetary resources has been delivered to the space agency by Google Lunar X-Prize contender Moon Express. The newest task order in the $10 million contract called for Moon Express to provide NASA with data about the company's progress through a Preliminary Design Checkpoint Technical Package that documents details of mission operations, spacecraft development, payload accommodations and Planetary Protection Plans.
Silicon Valley-based Moon Express was one of three U.S. companies awarded funding under NASA's Innovative Lunar Demonstrations and Data (ILDD) program in that year. Although the ILDD contract is an important substantiation of NASA's interest in commercial lunar providers, the majority of Moon Express funding is coming from private investment and is supplemented by revenues from payload customers. "The Moon has never been explored from an entrepreneurial perspective," said Moon Express co-founder and chairman, Naveen Jain. "Think of the Moon as the Earth's eighth continent, potentially the largest repository of asteroid resources in the solar system, and we have barely begun to explore it."
Moon Express has revealed plans to prospect and mine the Moon for precious planetary resources such as metals and water which are believed to be abundant on the Moon from millions of years of asteroid bombardment. "The Moon is an asteroid magnet," said company co-founder and CEO Bob Richards, a longtime advocate of space resources. "In addition to resource abundance, the Moon is right next door and does us the favor of pre-processing and storing the asteroid material so we can access it cost-effectively and safely with known technologies."
Moon Express co-founder, vice-chairman and CTO Dr. Barney Pell, a former NASA technology manager, is confident of the value proposition of lunar water combined with precious metals. "There could be more platinum group metals on the surface of the Moon than in all the reserves of Earth," he said. "And the lunar water we now know to be present is the key to liberating lunar resources economically."
In an in-depth article about Moon Express in April 2011, Resource Word magazine has called Moon Express plans "the biggest mining story in history. It could benefit the lives of millions of Earthlings." The mining industry journal stated, "The Moon may also have large quantities of platinum group metals (platinum, rhodium, iridium, osmium, and ruthenium) that have potential economic value on Earth. Platinum, for example, is the primary metal needed to make fuel cells. Evidence suggests there could be a trillion dollars' worth of platinum group metals in an average asteroid. We know asteroids contain platinum, and we know the level of asteroid bombardment experienced by the Moon. By deductive reasoning, we can conclude that the levels of platinum on the Moon are high."
Dr. Alan Stern, Moon Express Chief Scientist and former NASA Associate Administrator in charge of all the Agency's science, agrees that mounting new data about the Moon and its resources make it the natural next step for scientific research and commercial space development. "Thanks to Apollo and robotic explorations, as well as lunar meteorites, we have widely sampled the Moon and have a good understanding of what's accumulated there from eons of asteroid and cometary bombardment," said Dr. Stern. "And recent new data from lunar probes has discovered water at the lunar poles and bound within the lunar soil that could potentially change the economics of lunar exploration."
While pursuing the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE announced by Larry Page and Peter Diamandis in 2007, Moon Express plans to send a series of robotic spacecraft to the Moon for ongoing exploration and commercial development. Moon Express will also focus on bringing lunar resources into Earth's economic sphere to catalyze humanity's future in space.