Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mining and the Future of Space Exploration

Harrison Schmitt (Interlune-Intermars Initiative Inc.), Colin Farrelly (CSC), Dennis Franklin (CSC)


The future of human exploration in space is intimately bound to the future of mining and energy production on Earth. By 2025, one or more manned bases will probably exist on the Moon, exploring the lunar landscape and geology, and acting as a learning platform, and possibly a resource platform, for expeditions to Mars and beyond. Unless the mining and space industries take an active and co-operative interest in the technologies required to exploit minerals and fuels in and from hostile environments, the necessary advances to support permanent extra-terrestrial exploration will not be ready in time.

With the notable exception of using lunar Helium-3 as a fusion power fuel, no other reason has been identified for the mining industry to take any direct interest in the exploitation of extraterrestrial resources for the benefit of its customers on Earth. Ample reasons exist, however, for the industry to take a direct interest in supporting technological development of the extraterrestrial resources necessary to support the economical exploration of space.

The mining industry has critical experience in the development and application of technologies for the discovery, extraction and processing of natural resources; experience that the space industry will need to create a viable permanent presence in space. The industry also understands the end to end process of resource development and utilization. On the other hand, the space industry can directly benefit the mining sector by helping mature and advance the extractive and processing technologies needed to economically and sustainably develop resources in hostile terrestrial environments, such as those available in low concentrations, at extreme depth and/or inconvenient geographic locations.

We propose that strategic partnerships be created between the mining, space and allied industries, and research organizations. Such partnerships would develop a joint capability for mutual benefit, targeting the most significant advances in the least time. The space industry will learn how to exploit essential resources off-planet, and the mining industry will gain access to technologies to help extend their activities on earth.
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