Friday, January 23, 2009
Why China, India, Russia and the US are in a Moon Race.
"Nuclear fusion reactors using helium-3 could provide a highly efficient form of nuclear power with virtually no waste and no radiation.
One of many problems associated with using helium-3 to create energy via nuclear fusion is that, at least on the Earth, helium-3 is very, very rare indeed. Helium-3 is produced as a by-product of the maintenance of nuclear weapons, which could net a supply of around 15Kg a year. Helium-3 is, however, emitted by the Sun within its solar winds. Our atmosphere prevents any of this helium-3 arriving on the Earth. However, as it does not have an atmosphere, there is nothing to stop helium-3 arriving on the surface of the Moon and being absorbed by the lunar soil. As a result, it has been estimated that there are around 1,100,000 metric tonnes of helium-3 on the surface of the Moon down to a depth of a few metres. This helium-3 could potentially be extracted by heating the lunar dust to around 600 degrees C, before bringing it back to the Earth to fuel a new generation of nuclear fusion power plants.
About 25 tonnes of Helium-3 (or a fully-loaded Space Shuttle cargo bay's worth) could power the United States for a year. This means that Helium-3 has a potential economic value in the order of $3bn a tonne (yes, 3 billion dollars a tonne!) -- making it the only thing remotely economically viable to consider mining from the Moon given current and likely-near-future space travel technologies and capabilities."