Space Resources 101

Wow, what a busy few weeks... I have been doing a lot of learning lately! I have since started my Master's program in Space Resources and began online learning material for Project PoSSUM. Everything is happening so fast!

I did want show how much I have been learning in my program. You know... just to prove to everyone I actually am taking it! Our second week in we had to write a short essay explaining material resources. I have posted the question and my short response below. And I used actual stuff I have learned in my course! I would love to open this up to discussion! What do you all think about space resources? Where can you poke holes in my response? What did you learn?

In the near future we may be using the material resources found in space. What material resources of space would you argue will be used and in what sequence? For what purposes and by whom?

When looking at the future of space resources and their use, it is first important to consider their user. With the end goal of a sustainable lunar human presences, the most important material resources in space to be utilized are H2O, iron and other metals, and helium-3 in that order.

The first step in leaving Earth is to foster a short-term sustainable environment. When considering this, water offers sustainment to both human life and economic life in a way that minimizes the payload for initial growth. Conveniently, there is a significant amount of water on the moon’s surface which is also the best place for the first human presences outside Earth. Water will provide drinking water and oxygen, both highly crucial to human survival, as well as offers a source of radiation protection and machine cooling. The abundance of water will help manage many risks seen in space travel while lightening the load for human travel. It also can be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen, the two major components of rocket fuel used today. Production of rocket fuel once again decreases the weight for a return mission and also can be sold as a primary driver for a cislunar economy for both government agencies and commercial companies. Water will not only help support human life, but will engage the growth of a new economy, making it the most important first space resource to consider.

The next important step in human civilization is infrastructure. Material that is familiar to Earth’s already proven infrastructure includes iron, nickel, and other rare earth metals. A case can be made for any type of metal, but iron has been highly researched, is abundant, and has helpful properties. Iron only accounts for about 10% of the resources on the moon. This means it may be easier to turn to Near Earth Objects, specifically asteroids, for iron extraction using the Mond process. Iron found in NEO has the potential to be 99.999% pure of imperfections, meaning it can have properties similar to stainless steel. This makes iron an excellent material resource to aid in the initial infrastructure of human settlement. Iron and other metals that can be mined near the moon will allow for further development and plays a crucial secondary role in reaching human presences in space.

Finally, helium-3 is a highly abundant and unique material that can be found on the lunar surface. Since this is a stable isotope, it is of great interest in fusion for nuclear power. Having helium-3 as a primary energy source not only aids the lunar human presence but can also promote cleaner energy on Earth to sustain existing human presences. China claims there is enough helium-3 on the moon (roughly 1,100,000 metric tonnes) to solve energy issues on Earth for the next 10,000 years. Similar to water, this an example of a material resource that is highly valuable for both In Situ and Return to Earth. Building an economy is key to building human space presences. Helium-3, while valuable in this process, is a tertiary step because of the energy need of Earth’s people currently. Earth is not ready for nuclear power on a social level and will need to see the success on the moon before it will be welcomed for Earth utilization.

There is an unfathomable amount of resources and order of utilization that can be seen in the future of space resources. Outlined here is the material resources that will satisfy the growing interest in human space presences by providing basic human needs, building infrastructure, and optimizing energy in a way that will grow a space economy while providing economic benefit on Earth.

8 thoughts on “Space Resources 101”

  1. Awesome response! 2 more uses for water I can think of for water is aquaponics for edible plants/ things like hemp for fibers/ atmosphere regulating plants. Also water can be superheated and used in steam thrusters.

    1. Both really good points and have been discussed! I think it is interesting to use steam thrusters in space because it is such an “old” technology. It isn’t common to think of old tech in the new space age!

    2. Interesting question I came across – for asteroid mining, do you think it’s more cost and fuel efficient to transport refining and processing machinery on site, so that only the refined material is sent back to earth (saves return weight), or just ship the raw ore back be processed on Earth

      1. Great question Hans! And I am going to be honest, I don’t know the specifics enough to comfortably say “this is the way it is!” but I would venture a guess to say we need to ship raw material back to Earth for the near future. I don’t think we are close enough to have the refinery in space yet. Although I do wonder how much we can save by utilizing the vacuum of space in our process… something to think about!

  2. Since water doesn’t exist as a liquid on the moon’s surface, what solutions are there to ensure its production or viability as a resource?

    1. There is a lot of different ideas floating around and I am sure I will learn more as I get into my program. (I will be sure to post as I learn!) I know there is talk of thermal methods. The idea is to use mirrors and solar energy to turn the water into vapor and capture that to be utilized. But that is hard because water is where it gets INCREDIBLY cold and this idea might not be feasible. There is also a lot of talk about taking core samples, drilling, etc. Lots of talk and no definte idea yet. I’ll keep you posted, don’t worry!

  3. Good blog, Bailey! I think you’ve covered the basics in general terms of being able to sustain a human presence in space. I think an important consideration is the staging and integration of infrastructure to support a lunar settlement starting with the initial foothold and continuing with temporary habitation, permanent settlement and the sustainment of operations throughout the build-out. As they say, the devil’s in the details and it’ll make the Apollo project seem like a cakewalk. It’s hard to imagine the logistical challenges facing such an endeavor, especially when there is very, very little room for error. This is exciting stuff. I’m glad to see people like you with your enthusiasm, technical background and willingness to learn picking up where previous generations left off with the lunar landings.

    1. I agree! There are so many details that seem to be pushed off down the line. I think temporary habitation is a huge part of that. Personally, it would make sense to have a temporary set up in lunar orbit until we have a better understanding as to what we are getting into. So many details… and I hope to be a part of all of them!

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