By the year 2020, a small mining operation — the first conducted by a private company — will have taken place on the Moon. The company responsible will immediately, upon its lunar spacecraft’s return to Earth, place the gathered Moon material for sale to the highest bidders.
Florida-based Moon Express is scheduled to launch a lunar landing craft in the year 2020 to perform the first-ever mining and retrieval operation on the Moon’s surface, Space reported this week. The private company aims to procure a single scoop of lunar dirt and rocks via its own lunar lander and transport said sample back to Earth. And although Moon Express plans to set aside a token amount of the material for scientific research, much of the collection will be used for lucrative business endeavors, because the company believes that the spacecraft’s cargo will become, upon its return to Earth, a hot commodity worth a fortune.
“It will instantly become the most valuable and scarcest material on Earth,” says Bob Richards, the CEO of Moon Express. “We’ll make some of it available to scientific research. But we also plan to commoditize it ourselves.”
Just how will it become the “most valuable and scarcest material on Earth”? As Space explained, Moon Express will become the first-ever company to transport a “commercial asset” from outer space back to Earth. Simply by being the first of its kind, the resulting cargo of the first ferrying of lunar surface material, will ensure said material — the “commercial asset” — of as yet untold value and certify its scarcity, a factor that also works as a pricing driver through the age-old economic structure of supply and demand. The material gathered during a second trip (and each subsequent trip), regardless of whether or not Moon Express moves the cargo, will not enjoy the distinction of being of the limited “first” and, therefore, will not fetch the price of its predecessor(s).
But how can a company be certain of obtaining cargo of value? Companies around the world — and there are several beside Moon Express — are preparing lunar and asteroid landers for space missions to get in on what many see as a relatively unlimited raw commodities market in space. CEOs like Richards believe the amount of wealth to be made will be staggering.
“We believe that the first trillionaires will be made from space resources.”
It is yet unknown which minerals or substances will drive the markets that make those first trillionaires, but there are actors, like China, that see the mining of helium-3 as the prize. Helium-3, an isotope produced by the Sun and in short supply on Earth, can be found in abundance on the Moon. Being non-radioactive and not producing dangerous waste when used as an energy source, helium-3 is seen as a near perfect energy that is estimated by Chinese scientists to be capable of meeting the Earth’s energy requirements for at least 10,000 years.
Besides helium-3 and moon rocks, space enterprises are eyeing fortunes in asteroids that have been detected that are pure raw minerals, such as mountainous space rocks found to be nearly pure platinum (like near-Earth asteroid 2011 UW158or, which Forbes reported in 2015 as having a platinum core worth an estimated $5 trillion) made up of other rare Earth elements. There are also companies, most in fact, that see water as a precious and lucrative commodity. An abundant substance, water is seen as the ultimate target commodity for obvious reasons: It is necessary for survival and will be used in humanity’s inevitable push into space for drinking and oxygen maintenance purposes (for life support systems), and it can be broken down into both oxygen and hydrogen, key fuel elements used as rocket propellant.
And then there are the companies eyeing the potential market in space vehicles and zero-gravity construction, supplying the demand for colonization and exploratory spacecraft (some envisioned as being enormous, unconstrained by gravitational demands), much of which can be produced from raw materials gathered from objects in space.
Moon Express is but one of the private companies currently vying for the Google Lunar XPrize, which extends $20 million to the first endeavor to land a rover on the Moon’s surface, travel at least 500 meters (1640 feet), and broadcast hi-definition images back to Earth. Prior to obtaining its historic first scoop of Moon dirt and rocks, the company has three lunar missions planned, the first, of course, being the winning of the Google Lunar XPrize.
Moon Express became the first private company in history, in 2016, to receive permission from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to journey outside of Earth’s orbit and land a craft on the surface of the Moon.
[Featured Image by Pavel Chagochkin/Shutterstock]