NASA challenges businesses to mine lunar soil-Spaceflight Now

Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

NASA announced Thursday that it plans to purchase lunar soil from a commercial company, and the agency’s chief official said it was an effort to set a precedent for the transfer of ownership of alien material and stimulate markets to harvest resources from corpses throughout the solar system. .

The initiative started small, but NASA manager Jim Bridenstine said Thursday that companies will be able to mine water ice, precious metals and other resources from the lunar soil.

“We are interested in buying lunar soil commercially,” Bridenstine said in a virtual presentation at the Secure World Foundation’s Space Sustainability Summit on Thursday. “So we want a commercial company to go to the moon and harvest the lunar soil so that NASA can own it.”

“We’re buying Legolis, but we’re actually doing it to prove that the resources extracted from the moon are actually owned by those who invested sweat and treasure. I try,” said Bridenstine.

NASA’s efforts to buy lunar soil from commercial companies are rooted in a law passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in 2015, Bridenstine said. The law allows private organizations to extract, own and use water, minerals and other substances harvested from the moon.

Bridenstine said NASA’s goal of fostering a commercial market for mining the moon is in compliance with the 1967 Space Treaty, an international agreement ratified by 110 countries including the United States, Britain, China and Russia.

The space treaty states that “space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by sovereignty, use, occupation or other means.”

Bridenstine said NASA believes in space treaties, but NASA wants to “activate the normalization process” to show it can mine and own extraterrestrial resources.

“We are… I believe we can’t make the moon fit for national sovereignty,” he said. “And that’s absolutely not what we’re trying to do.

“But we believe we can extract and utilize resources from the moon just as we can extract and utilize tuna from the sea,” Bridenstine said. “We do not own the sea. However, if you invest your hard work and effort and in harvesting tuna from the sea, you can own tuna in the sea, which is a very valuable resource for mankind.”

“So the question is, we can have property rights over the extracted resources without using the moon or other celestial bodies as national sovereignty. And I believe the answer is overwhelmingly yes.”

Through the Artemis program, NASA plans to land astronauts on the moon for the first time since 1972. The Trump administration last year ordered NASA to land its crew near the lunar Antarctica by the end of 2024, four years before NASA’s previous schedule. Send the astronaut back to the lunar surface.

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NASA wants the Artemis program to lead to a longer-lasting human existence on the moon than the Apollo program that ended in the 1970s. To make the Artemis program last, NASA says crews or robots should extract and utilize resources such as ice from the Moon instead of bringing all the materials they need from Earth.

“How do we make a sustainable program? We have to utilize the hundreds of millions of tons of water ice on the moon,” said Bridenstine. “Air to breathe and water to drink,” he said, and can also be converted to rocket fuel.

“Therefore, all this is possible with hundreds of millions of tons in the lunar South Pole. We have to be able to use it as a resource,” he said.

Precious metals can also be mined from the moon along with helium-3, which can be used as an energy source.

Bridenstine declared the problem of extraterrestrial mining as non-partisan, but the use of resources from other planets raised concerns.

Planetary Association’s Emily Lakdawalla tweeted, “It’s a way to repeat our shameful and environmentally destructive history without explicitly stating that we plan to make the future in space different from the past on Earth.” .

Clive Neal, a lunar scientist at the University of Notre Dame, has expressed support for the new NASA lunar soil initiative. However, he tweeted that the Environmental Impact Statement, a standard part of many construction projects in the United States, should be an early stage for proposals to extract and use lunar resources.

“The Moon doesn’t have any valuable resources to sell on Earth, so there’s no risk of companies mining and ruining the Moon until it’s close to 2100,” tweeted Phil Metzger, planetary scientist at the University of the University. Central Florida, including planetary soil sampling in research expertise. “You can get everything on the planet a million times cheaper.

“Second, we don’t have the technology to mine the moon on a large scale,” Metzger added. “Technology development *alone* will take 30 to 40 years to make a large lunar mining venture economically viable. The key is to reduce the need for humans to repair broken robots.”

NASA Manager Jim Bridenstine. Credit: Isis Valencia/Spaceflight Now

President Trump signed an executive order in April outlining a policy that the United States does not view space as a’global commons’. The order strengthened the 2015 law, signed by President Obama, giving U.S. citizens and businesses the right to mine and use resources harvested from other institutions in space.

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This policy violates the 1979 lunar treaty that the moon and its natural resources are “common heritage of mankind”. The Lunar Treaty added that an international framework is needed to control the exploitation of lunar resources “when such exploitation becomes possible.”

However, only 18 parties to the 1979 Lunar Treaty have not been signed or ratified by the United States, China and Russia.

Bridenstine said Friday that NASA wants to have a “strong legal framework based on international law” that allows individuals and businesses to pursue private interests on the moon.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure we have a code of conduct that says we can extract resources and we’re doing it in a space treaty compliant way,” Bridenstine said. “And we’re doing it in a way that people can’t interfere with your efforts to extract those resources.”

Earlier this year, NASA summarized the Artemis Accords, a principle that the organization’s international partners are expected to follow in lunar exploration. Principles include peaceful exploration of the moon, transparency, interoperability, emergency support pledges, registration of space objects, and scientific data disclosure.

“These codes of conduct eventually became binding international law,” said Bridenstine. “This is a burning road. I think America should lead here. Then these codes of conduct will ultimately affect international laws that ensure that spaces are sustainable in the long run. .”

Some scientists have questioned how NASA will implement planetary protection guidelines in an era of mining and other loosely regulated commercial activity in space. Planetary protection is focused on preventing spacecraft and ultimately humans from interfering with areas where extraterrestrial life may be present. The guidelines are stricter in a world like Mars than on the Moon.

In July, NASA announced the end of planetary protection requirements for missions landing at most locations on the lunar surface. Areas around the poles with water ice and the historic Apollo landing sites would fall into the category of higher levels of planetary protection.

Bridenstine said Thursday that NASA is not a regulator but could set expectations for private companies.

“If you want to be with us when we go to the moon, if you want to be a private company that can have NASA as a customer, or if you want to join us when we go to Mars, there are specific actions, such as: You have to comply,” said Bridenstine.

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The request for proposals announced by NASA on Thursday will be open to US and international companies. According to agency spokesman Stephanie Schierholz, the offer closes on October 9th, and NASA may award more than one award.

The award-winning company collects lunar soil or rocks from any location on the moon, and provides NASA an image of the collected material along with the data that was collected and data identifying where the material was captured. The company then transfers ownership of the sample to NASA on the moon.

Bridenstine said Thursday that NASA expects to pay $15,000 to $25,000 for 50 to 500 grams of lunar soil. The final price, according to Schierholz, is determined by the outcome of the competition.

If a company collects more than 500 grams, the rest can be sold to other countries, companies or individuals, Bridenstine said. And there may be further competition for companies to collect lunar soil and sell it to NASA.

In 2018, NASA created the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program to set up a series of competitions where companies bid for contracts to transport scientific instruments to the moon. NASA has selected 14 U.S. companies eligible for CLPS contract awards and has been awarded four robotic lunar lander missions to date.

The first CLPS missions under development by Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines are expected to launch in the month of 2021.

Eligibility for the Lunar Soil Challenge announced Thursday is not limited to CLPS providers. Other US companies and international organizations could also bid, Bridenstine said.

“What we’re trying to do is establish a code of conduct to create regulatory certainty so that outside companies can take advantage of these programs and move forward,” said Bridenstine. “We are trying to prove the concept that resources can be extracted and traded. And it can be traded not only between companies or individuals, but also across countries and across borders.

“I would like to say that the starting point is ice water,” he said. “Many private companies are going to go and get that water ice and then sell it to us as an agency or other private business that uses the month as a destination for all sorts of different functions.”

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