NASA challenges companies to mine lunar soil – spaceflight now

Credit: NASA / Aubrey Geminani

NASA announced Thursday that it plans to purchase lunar soil from a trading company, and the lead agency official said it is an attempt to set a precedent for transferring ownership of exotic materials and stimulate markets to harvest resources from corpses throughout the solar system. .

The initiative started small, but NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstein said Thursday that the companies will be able to extract water ice, precious metals and other resources from lunar soil.

“We are interested in purchasing lunar soil commercially,” said Bridenstein in a virtual presentation at the Safer World Foundation’s Space Sustainability Summit on Thursday. So we want a commercial company to go to the moon and harvest lunar soil so that NASA can own it. “

“We are buying Legolis, but we’re already doing it to prove that the resources extracted from the moon are actually owned by those who have invested in race and treasures,” Bridenstein said.

Bridenstine said NASA’s efforts to buy lunar soil from commercial companies are rooted in a law passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in 2015. The act allows private organizations to extract, own, and use water, minerals, and other materials harvested from the moon.

Bridenstein said NASA’s goal of promoting a commercial lunar mining market is in line with the 1967 Space Treaty, an international agreement ratified by 110 countries including the United States, Britain, China and Russia.

The Space Treaty states that “Space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national ownership by sovereignty, use, occupation, or any other means.”

Bridenstein said that NASA believes in space treaties, but that NASA wants to “revitalize the normalization process” to show that it is able to explore and possess extraterrestrial resources.

“We … I think we cannot make the moon suitable for national sovereignty,” he said. “This is not what we are trying to do at all.

“But we think we can extract and use the resources from the moon just as we can extract and use tuna from the sea,” Bridenstein said. “We don’t own the sea. However, if you invest your hard work and effort in harvesting tuna from the sea, you can own tuna at sea, which is a very valuable resource for humanity.”

“So the question is, we can have property rights over the extracted resources without using the moon or other celestial bodies as national sovereignty. I think the answer is overwhelmingly yes.”

Through the Artemis program, NASA plans to land astronauts on the moon for the first time since 1972. Last year, the Trump administration ordered NASA to land its crew near Antarctica by the end of 2024, four years before NASA’s previous schedule. He sent an astronaut to the surface of the moon.

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NASA wants the Artemis program to lead to a longer-lasting human presence on the moon than the Apollo program, which ended in the 1970s. To make the Artemis program last, NASA says crews or robots should extract and use resources like ice from the moon rather than fetch all the materials they need from Earth.

“How do we create a sustainable program?” Bridenstein said, “We should use hundreds of millions of tons of water ice on the moon.” “Air to breathe and water to drink,” he said, and could also be converted into fuel for rockets.

Therefore, all this is possible with hundreds of millions of tons at the south pole of the Moon. We must be able to use it as a resource.

The moon’s precious metals can also be extracted with helium-3, which can be used as an energy source.

Bridenstein declared the extraterrestrial mining problem nonpartisan, but the use of resources from other planets raised concerns.

“It’s a way to replicate our shameful and ecologically destructive history without explicitly stating that we plan to make the future in space different from the past on Earth,” wrote Emily Lakdwala of the Planetary Society. .

Clive Neal, a lunar scientist at the University of Notre Dame, has expressed support for NASA’s initiative for a new lunar soil. However, he tweeted that the Environmental Impact Statement, a standard part of many construction projects in the United States, should be an early stage for proposals to extract and use lunar resources.

“The moon does not have any valuable resources to sell on Earth, so there is no risk of companies mining and destroying the moon until it approaches the year 2100,” wrote Phil Metzger, a planetary scientist at the university’s university, on Twitter. Central Florida, including planetary soil sampling in research experience. “You can get everything on this planet a million times cheaper.

Metzger added: “Second, we do not have the technology to mine the moon on a large scale.” It will take 30 to 40 years to develop the technology * alone * to make a large lunar mining project economically viable. The key is to reduce the need for humans to fix broken robots. “

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstein. Credit: Isis Valencia / Spaceflight Now

President Trump signed an Executive Order in April outlining a policy that the United States does not view space as “global commons.” The order strengthened the 2015 Act, signed by President Obama, granting American citizens and companies the right to mine and use resources harvested from other institutions in space.

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This policy violates the 1979 Lunar Treaty which states that the Moon and its natural resources are “the common heritage of mankind.” The Lunar Treaty added that there is a need for an international framework to control the exploitation of lunar resources “when this exploitation becomes possible.”

However, only 18 parties to the 1979 Moon Treaty did not sign or ratify the United States, China, and Russia.

Bridenstein said Friday that NASA wants to have a “robust legal framework based on international law” that allows individuals and companies to pursue private interests on the moon.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure we have a code of conduct that says we can extract the resources and do it in a way that is consistent with the space treaty,” Bridenstein said. “And we do it in a way that people cannot interfere with your efforts to extract those resources.”

Earlier this year, NASA summarized the Artemis Agreements, a principle the organization’s international partners are expected to follow in lunar exploration. Principles include the peaceful exploration of the Moon, transparency, interoperability, emergency support undertakings, registration of space objects, and scientific data disclosure.

“These codes of conduct have ultimately become binding international law,” Bridenstein said. “This is a blazing path. I think America should lead here. Then these codes of conduct will ultimately affect international laws that ensure the long-term sustainability of spaces.”

Some scientists have questioned how NASA will implement planetary protection guidelines in the age of mining and other unregulated commercial activities in space. Planetary protection focuses on preventing spacecraft, and ultimately humans, from interfering in areas where extraterrestrial life might exist. The guidelines are stricter in a world like Mars than on the moon.

In July, NASA announced the end of planetary protection requirements for missions that land at most sites on the moon. Areas around the poles with water ice and historic Apollo landing sites will fall into the category of higher levels of planetary protection.

Bridenstein said Thursday that NASA is not a regulator but can set expectations for private companies.

“If you want to be with us when we go to the moon, or if you want to be a private company that can hire NASA as a customer, or if you want to join us when we go to Mars, there are specific procedures, like Bridenstein said,” You have to comply.

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The RFP announced by NASA on Thursday will be open to US and international companies. According to agency spokesperson Stephanie Sherholz, the show ends October 9, and NASA may award more than one award.

The award-winning company collects moon soil or rocks from anywhere on the moon’s surface, and provides NASA with a picture of the material collected along with the data collected and data that determine where the material was captured. The company then transfers ownership of the sample to NASA on the moon.

Bridenstine said Thursday that NASA expects to pay $ 15,000 to $ 25,000 for 50 to 500 grams of lunar soil. The final price, according to Schierholz, is determined by the outcome of the competition.

If a company collects more than 500 grams, the rest can be sold to other countries, companies, or individuals, Bridenstine said. There may be another competition for companies to collect lunar soil and sell it to NASA.

In 2018, NASA created the Lunar Payload Services Program to set up a series of contests where companies bid for contracts to transport scientific instruments to the moon. NASA has selected 14 US companies eligible for CLPS contracts and have been awarded four robotic landing missions on the surface of the Moon so far.

The first CLPS missions under development by Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines are expected to launch in 2021.

Eligibility for the Lunar Soil Challenge announced Thursday is not limited to CLPS providers. Bridenstein said US companies and other international organizations could bid.

“What we’re trying to do is create a code of conduct to create regulatory certainty so that offshore companies can take advantage of these programs and move forward,” said Bridenstein. We are trying to prove the concept that resources can be extracted and traded. It can be traded not only between companies or individuals, but also across countries and across borders.

He said, “I would say the starting point is ice water.” “Many private companies will go to get this water ice and then sell it to us as an agency or another private company that uses the month as a destination for all kinds of different jobs.”

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