China Could Legally Seize Moon’s ‘Peaks of Eternal Light’ –“Will Earth’s 1st Space War Start There?”

 

 

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A ‘research station’ on the ‘peaks of eternal light’ would prevent anyone else from approaching. A Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics senior astrophysicist, Martin Elvis, has sounded the alarm of how an unfriendly power – the Chinese for example – could seize control of an important piece of lunar real estate. They could do it legally by exploiting provisions of the Outer Space Treaty, that bars any nation — and by extension, corporation — from owning property on a celestial body, but a loophole in the pact may amount to the same thing, warns Elvis.


The real estate in question are the so-called “peaks of eternal light” that lay around permanently shadowed craters at the Lunar South Pole. Unlike the Earth, which is tilted so the poles are in six months of darkness and six months of light, the moon is almost perfectly aligned with its orbit around the sun. Because of the way the moon tilts, these peaks are bathed in sunlight for most if not all of the time, which means you can have an almost continuous power supply, ideal for a photovoltaic power station. Thus this part of the moon would be perfect places to erect solar power stations that would support mining operations in the nearby craters, where water and other valuable resources such as Helium 3 have been deposited over billions of years.

 

Elvis says that provisions in the treaty allow nations to exploit resources, including through establishing research stations, and bar others from disrupting such endeavors. In some cases, this could amount to de facto ownership, Elvis said. As China and Japan plan moon landings, and corporate leaders eye their own space ventures, the loophole has gained in importance.

Not only are China and Japan planning a series of missions to the moon, China just announced that one of its missions would land at the south pole somewhere. There are also private companies, stimulated by the Google Lunar X Prize. And there are two teams that have rocket flights booked for 2017, an Israeli team and Moon Express, a U.S. company. And they seem to be looking at being able to send a lander to the moon for $50 million, which is very cheap by space standards. So this makes it a very urgent issue.

 

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People will soon want to start putting power stations on these Peaks of Eternal Light and use them for exploiting the resources. What we pointed out is that a very simple experiment, similar to the one that the Chinese have already landed on the near side of the moon, [could serve to limit access to others]. You land on one end of the ridge and a little rover goes off, trailing a little copper wire behind it. It trundles off to the other end of the ridge, and that would then form a radio telescope to explore the Cosmos.

During the 40th Anniversary Commemoration Event for Apollo 17, moonwalker and NASA retired astronaut and geologist Harrison Schmitt said “one of the most significant contributions of the Apollo Missions was confirming the presence of Helium-3 on the moon.”

Helium-3 (He-3) is a light, non-radioactive isotope of helium with two protons and one neutron. Its presence is rare on Earth, it is sought after for use in nuclear fusion research, and it is abundant in the moon’s soil by at least 13 parts per billion (ppb) by weight.

In 2007, shortly after Russia claimed a vast portion of the Arctic sea floor, accelerating an international race for the natural resources as global warming opens polar access, China announced plans to map “every inch” of the surface of the Moon and exploit the vast quantities of Helium-3 thought to lie buried in lunar rocks as part of its ambitious space-exploration program.

Ouyang Ziyuan, head of the first phase of lunar exploration, was quoted on government-sanctioned news site ChinaNews.com describing plans to collect three dimensional images of the Moon for future mining of Helium 3: “There are altogether 15 tons of helium-3 on Earth, while on the Moon, the total amount of Helium-3 can reach one to five million tons.”

“Helium-3 is considered as a long-term, stable, safe, clean and cheap material for human beings to get nuclear energy through controllable nuclear fusion experiments,” Ziyuan added. “If we human beings can finally use such energy material to generate electricity, then China might need 10 tons of helium-3 every year and in the world, about 100 tons of helium-3 will be needed every year.”

Helium 3 fusion energy – classic Buck Rogers propulsion system- may be the key to future space exploration and settlement, requiring less radioactive shielding, lightening the load. Scientists estimate there are about one million tons of helium 3 on the moon, enough to power the world for thousands of years. The equivalent of a single space shuttle load or roughly 25 tons could supply the entire United States’ energy needs for a year.

Thermonuclear reactors capable of processing Helium-3 would have to be built, along with major transport system to get various equipment to the Moon to process huge amounts of lunar soil and get the minerals back to Earth. The harvesting of Helium-3 on the could start by 2025. Our lunar mining could be but a jumping off point for Helium 3 extraction from the atmospheres of our Solar System gas giants, Saturn and Jupiter.

UN Treaties in place state that the moon and its minerals are the common heritage of mankind, so the quest to use Helium-3 as an energy source would likely demand joint international co-operation. Hopefully, exploitation of the moon’s resources will be viewed as a solution for thw world, rather than an out-moded nation-state solution.

The Daily Galaxy via The Harvard Gazette

Image credit: top of page South Pole ichef.bbci.co.uk

 

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