March 1, 2016 – Okay China does not have a great record for protecting the environment.
I can’t but think of the movie ‘The Time Machine’ where mining on the moon goes disastrously wrong and not only destroys the moon but the earth too. Sending humans back to the stone age.
Then there is that whole thing of the elite that end up hunting the humans living on the surface as their food.
Now China want’s to mine the Moon? What could possible go wrong?
China’s Chang’e lunar probe dynasty is already having a great year. The Chang’e 3 lunar lander surpassed all expectations last week to emerge from its 14th hibernation while the Chang’e 5-T1 just completed its transfer from the Earth–Moon Lagrange Point 2 into a stable orbit around the Moon. Chang’e 3’s main mission was only to take spectrographic and ground penetrating radar measurements, but the Chang’e 5 missions will bring back the first samples containing the actual prize — fusion-ready helium-3.
One of the main reasons helium-3 is sought as a fusion fuel is because there are no neutrons generated as a reaction product. The protons that do get generated have charge, and can therefore be safely contained using electromagnetic fields. Early dreamers imagined that Saturn or Jupiter would be the ideal places to try and get their hands on some helium-3, but it now appears that the Chinese have set their sights on the Moon.
Although the Sun dispenses ample amounts of helium-3 wherever it blows, the Earth is largely shielded from this windfall by its own magnetic field. The little we do have is mostly generated by various terrestrial processes like cosmic ray bombardment and even relic sources from leftover nuclear warheads. The Moon, on the other hand, is a far more concentrated depot with up to five million tons conveniently embedded in its top surface layer.
If you are thinking that panning the entire surface of the Moon might not be a sound business model, consider that helium-3 would probably not be the only payoff expected. Just as extraction of rare earth metals on our own planet is often piggybacked on a larger iron ore harvest, the Moon would offer a lot in the way of other primary raw materials like, for example, titanium.
While the West might justify its own inaction on the helium-3 front in terms of old space treaties or lunar conservation, excuses like this are probably laughable to a country like China who now actually is going and getting their own lunar helium-3.
The real hurdles they face are not the bureaucratic red tape or even the logistics of a mass space and mining effort, but rather the physics of helium-3 fusion itself. In other words, is helium-3 necessarily the best way to do fusion?