free html hit counter Peak Oil Debunked: 222. RUSSIA TO MINE LUNAR FUEL BY 2020

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Omnitir will be continuing his series on space industrialization in the next article, but first I wanted to post this related news as a warm-up:
Russia to Mine "Ideal Fuel" on the Moon by 2020

Created: 25.01.2006 19:19 MSK (GMT +3), Updated: 19:19 MSK, 8 hours 41 minutes ago


Russia is planning to mine a rare fuel on the moon by 2020 with a permanent base and a heavy-cargo transport link, a Russian space official quoted by AFP said on Wednesday.

"We are planning to build a permanent base on the moon by 2015 and by 2020 we can begin the industrial-scale delivery... of the rare isotope Helium-3," Nikolai Sevastyanov, head of the Energia space corporation, was quoted by ITAR-TASS news agency as saying at an academic conference.

The International Space Station (ISS) would play a key role in the project and a regular transport relay to the moon would be established with the help of the planned Clipper spaceship and the Parom, a space capsule intended to tug heavy cargo containers around space, Sevastyanov said.

Helium-3 is a non-radioactive isotope of helium that can be used in nuclear fusion.

Rare on earth but plentiful on the moon, it is seen by some experts as an ideal fuel because it is powerful, non-polluting and generates almost no radioactive by-product.Source
This is a positive sign, which will hopefully lead to increased competition among the great powers (US, EU, Russia, China, Japan) in the race for space dominance. Russia is the clear leader at the moment. They have a long, illustrious history as space pioneers, are the current world leaders in cheap, reliable launch technology, and shouldn't be facing any funding problems for a long time due to the windfalls provided by their vast remaining fossil fuel deposits.
-- by JD


At Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 5:23:00 PM PST, Blogger JD said...

Note from JD:
I'm interested in substantive comments about problems faced by space industrialization, mining etc. However, I am not interested in comments which are nothing more than scoffing, sarcasm or tired old jokes about Captain Kirk etc. Comments of that nature will be canned.

At Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 6:33:00 PM PST, Blogger dub_scratch said...

Aren't we going to need some advanced development of nuclear fusion reactors in order to use this helium-3 stuff? Beside that little obstacle, harvesting this mineral from the moon would be a snap. (BTW, if it were to happen it will all be done with robots telecontroled from Earth. No Captain Kirk beem-me-up-scotty scenario is likely because that would be dangerous, costly and unnecessary. If humans go to the Moon it will be for fun and adventure.)

JD, what do you think of the prospects that a successful fusion breakthrough is possible this century? I personaly don't see it happening.

But I will tell you this: if it were to be the case that fusion energy becomes reality, then all of our resource problems and all of are environmental problems we have accumulated could be easily corrected. We would be able to see the return of perpetual growth, but this time it would be for real. Fusion is the key, IMO.

At Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 7:35:00 PM PST, Blogger Roland said...

Holy moly! That's amazing, I didn't realize this would happen so soon. The Americans are going back to the moon in 2015, and eventually putting a base up there, but have you seen the new lunar lander? It looks exactly like the Eagle. They were even talking about launching it with an updated Saturn V. Sigh.

Chris L, while fusion power would be pretty great, I think the other thing to watch out for is super-cheap nano-manufactured solar panels, which could be 20-30 years away. Still, neither of these things will allow perpetual growth on Earth, because sooner or later you would run into overcrowding or heat dissipation problems. Besides, cheap easy energy would spread universal prosperity, thus reducing birthrates even further. So perpetual growth will be happening in space, not Earth.

At Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 5:17:00 AM PST, Blogger Thomas said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 5:22:00 AM PST, Blogger Thomas said...

As far as I remember, He3 reactions require higher temperatures than Deuterium-Tritium which is currently pursued. But it has a higher energy yield. And they do not produce neutrons which means zero radioactivity.

The statement about Helium3 being plentiful on the moon hides the fact that it is a trace element in moon dust (as opposed to virtually non-existing on Earth). You would have to sift through a whole lot of moon dust to produce significant amounts of Helium3. And the reactor that uses it is further away than currently planned fusion. Still, it will probably happen some time in the future. By then, I expect the oil era will be long forgotten.

About the breakthrough in fusion. It is really not a breakthrough that is required as much as steady work and progress. Scientists have been grinding at the problem for 50 years to the point where they expect that ITER (the next experimental fusion reactor) will actually produce fusion. The next step after that is a demonstration fusion power plant, not another experiment.

Take a look for yourself at the ITER homepage.

I cannot deep-link, so choose Why\Development Programme\Progress and Devemopment Strategy.

The time table is quite long. We are no longer messing around with tabletop experiments. Still, many scientists believe that the time to completion is very much a question of money (as was the case with the Apollo program and, according to the oil majors, extraction of conventional oil)

Like Roland hinted at, by them we will have had to develop alternatives to both oil and fusion. These alternative will likely be cheaper by the year 2050 when demonstration of fusion technology is complete. After that, installing fusion power plants across the globe might take some time...

I will be positively surprised to see Helium3 fusion within my lifetime, hopefully another 50-60 years.


At Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 1:15:00 PM PST, Blogger popmonkey said...


don't you think population growth will slow on the planet? i think just as gene based evolution has mostly stopped in humans and been replaced by meme based evolution (technology) we will see a shift of growth of individual life from quantity to quality.

At Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 1:33:00 PM PST, Blogger Roland said...

don't you think population growth will slow on the planet? i think just as gene based evolution has mostly stopped in humans and been replaced by meme based evolution (technology) we will see a shift of growth of individual life from quantity to quality.

Yep, I agree completely. Provided we don't make an aging breakthrough before then, I think population will probably start falling within 30-40 years.

I'm getting a bit of topic now, but even with radical life extension (several hundred years), overpopulation will not be an issue as long as we also have well-regulated nanotechnology. Birthrates will fall low enough to keep the population relatively constant, and we can easily live in very tall skyscrapers or on floating cities on the ocean, producing food with nano-assemblers. The possibilities are incredible!

Still, as the exponential growthniks love to say, even a 1% growth rate cannot continue forever, so I can imagine a scenario 100 years from now, with people living for centuries and colonies established in space, where having babies is not allowed on Earth. You want to breed, you leave — Earth is a museum (Galactic Heritage Site?). This won't be such a bad thing, since many people will want to live in space anyway. Other planets will be terraformed and humanity will spread. The Earth's population will dwindle until it stabilizes at a small number of people who don't want children and don't want to leave. Buddhists, probably. And luddites who rejected the technologies for moral reasons and still live in the 20th century with oil synthesized from old carbon dioxide.

At Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 1:34:00 PM PST, Blogger Roland said...

As the Bible said, "the meek will inherit the Earth". One day the Amish will have this planet all to themselves. :-)

At Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 5:30:00 PM PST, Blogger Omnitir said...

This is exciting news. Things are starting to shape up for the next space race – the race to begin industrial processes on the moon. NASA is aiming to land people by 2018, China 2017, and now Russia apparently is aiming for 2015. At the same time we have both Europe and Japan heavily investing in programs for lunar probes, and we have a growing interest in the moon from the commercial/private sector. But the great thing is that all of this interest is not to simply land on the moon, but to establish some degree of infrastructure to begin the process of utilizing resources in space.

The space craft the Russians are developing for this project looks interesting, which is in some way an alternative to NASA’s proposed CEV:
What’s also interesting is the potential foreign interest in investment in the Russian program. The ESA was looking at investing but is currently holding off making a decision, and Japan has also expressed interest.

As for Helium-3 fusion, it should be noted that due to the extreme rarity of the isotope on Earth, very little investigation has been done into the feasibility of a Helium-3 nuclear fusion power plant.

Even disregarding Helium-3, we are still going to the moon with the aim to begin industrial practices. The lunar regolith also contains oxygen and metal oxides, which can be used to create rocket fuel, which once created will significantly reduce the costs of further space programs.

You would have to sift through a whole lot of moon dust to produce significant amounts of Helium3.
Sifting through moon dust on a large scale, and extracting Helium-3 and oxygen is the key goal of current lunar initiatives. The Russians are looking at reaching an effective industrial operation around 5 years after the first moon landing, and China and the U.S. are also looking at similar time scales to reach effective production. Sifting through a whole lot of moon dust is precisely what is planned.

The Americans are going back to the moon in 2015, and eventually putting a base up there, but have you seen the new lunar lander? It looks exactly like the Eagle. They were even talking about launching it with an updated Saturn V.
Are you sure about 2015? I thought they are aiming for 2018? The thing about the new U.S. vision for space is that they are basically thinking logically about it for a change. Instead of designing and building some sexy new over-priced technology, they are looking at going for what they know works and doing it as cheaply as they can manage. They know the lander works, so why reinvent the wheel? Instead, isn’t it smarter to simply rebuild the same thing but on a larger scale? As for the Saturn V, I’m quite sure this is incorrect. I believe they are planing on basically modifying the existing space shuttle’s external booster into a larger rocket system capable of escaping Earth orbit. It may look ugly, but it will do the job cheaper and safer then a whole new rocket design. Incidentally, I’ve read that apparently NASA actually destroyed the plans to the Saturn V design in an unbelievable housecleaning act.

At Friday, January 27, 2006 at 6:20:00 PM PST, Blogger Roland said...

Sorry Omnitir, my mistake about the moon mission.. Actually you can still get the Saturn V plans on microfilm at the Kennedy Space Center.

By the way, Al Fin's Blog has an article about moon mining and helium 3-based fusion reactors. The Chinese are just about to finish a new reactor. If it works, with a bit of helium 3 (which doesn't make radioactive waste), we're set.

At Friday, January 27, 2006 at 10:45:00 PM PST, Blogger Omnitir said...

I’ve read that researchers are optimistic about helium3 reactors. These developments should be interesting in the coming years.

Also, apparently the confusion about the lack of plans/blue prints from Apollo era technology comes from the misconception that there has ever been a single set of documents containing the plans to such complex technology. Hundreds of thousands of people from dozens of different companies from all across America worked on the Apollo project. In many cases a single company, comprising only a fraction of the project, generated literally millions of documents relating to engineering designs. The total number of documents for a Saturn V “blueprint” would have likely numbered in the hundreds of millions of documents – all before the age of widespread electronic data storage. So once Apollo ended, the many companies involved in the project had no reason to spend money maintaining the many documents relating to an obsolete project with no chance of re-use, and so apparently many documents were destroyed. Many documents across America were also preserved such as those at the Kennedy Space Centre among other places, primarily for historical reasons, but apparently it was deemed a waste of money preserving everything since it was a massive amount of documents that would never be reused.

So if NASA wanted to build a Saturn V type rocket, they would still need to invest a considerable amount designing the thing. There is no point though because they already have the infrastructure to build shuttle rocket technology, which can and will be adapted for escape velocity.

At Tuesday, January 31, 2006 at 9:28:00 AM PST, Blogger Override367 said...

You know I put absolutely no stock in any of JD's space power posts, at least not in time for the end of oil or perhaps even this century - but who knows? we might have lunar solar power in 30 years - I think the world can last that long on NG/Coal (well.... some countries doing better than others)

At Tuesday, January 31, 2006 at 11:54:00 PM PST, Blogger Roland said...

I think we'll definitely see space power within 50 years. I was sceptical about space power at first but now I've come around.

10 years = gas and coal
25 years = renewables
50 years = space power, renewables and fusion

It's not going to replace oil next week, but if you think gas and coal are the fuels of the 21st century, you're dreaming.

At Wednesday, October 15, 2008 at 6:30:00 PM PDT, Anonymous Pat Kean said...

Barack Obama will cut funding to NASA and delay US landing on the Moon by at least 8 years.

China is planning a heavy lift booster we could have deployed by 1976. This booster will be able to put 500 tons into low Earth orbit at a pop. Russia has Energia, but has a bit of a problem due to being so far north.

Helium Three has been tested. It can produce power but not as cheaply as some believe. It is an entirly new tech, and will new problems will surface.

Back in 1970 Jerry Pruenelle's book "a step further out" proposed placing large solar power plants in geo-orbit, or at the L points near Earth. The power would be beamed to earth to receivers via MASER's. With heavy lift, and a Moon manufacturing system SPS could be operational within 25 years.

I believe a dual approach using the Moon as a source of materials sould be considered. Barack Obama will take the US out of this effort.


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