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Russia To Mine Helium-3 on the Moon by 2020

Posted March 22, 2006

Russia To Mine Helium-3 on the Moon by 2020
Mining helium-3 on the Moon
According to an official statement released in January, the mining of helium-3 on the Moon will be the main purpose of the Russian space exploration program. “We are planning to set up a permanent station on the Moon by 2015. The industrial mining of helium-3, a rare isotope, is expected to begin on the Moon in 2020,” said Nikolai Sevastianov, head of the Rocket and Space Corporation Energia. The lunar mission will involve the use of a Russian space shuttle Kliper and an interplanetary space tug Parom.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, also regards the presence of helium-3 in the lunar crystals as a good reason for kicking off a lunar exploration program. Meanwhile, NASA is not planning to send any missions to the Moon until 2018. The United States remains the only country whose astronauts walked the Moon. NASA sent six manned missions to the Moon between 1969 and 1972. China and Japan also intend to build lunar stations. However, the above countries are likely to commence their lunar exploration programs in the 2020s.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta already wrote about the grandiose plans of Russia’s space agency. We also expressed a couple of doubts whether the lunar exploration program was worthwhile and why today’s Russia should be concerned with a helium production project, which might have a negative impact on implementation of other space projects e.g. a mission to Phobos that has long been in the works. (for further reference see NG issue of September 28, 2005 ).

Speaking of helium-3, it is quite noteworthy to point out that one ton of the rare isotope costs $4 billion. The Moon is reported to have millions of tons of helium-3, which is an essential ingredient for starting up a thermonuclear reaction that is yet to become a reality in terms of electric power generation.

The point is that scientists have not yet produced a basic thermonuclear reaction involving the release of energy after deuterium is combined with tritium. Following a lengthy discussion, an international treaty on the construction of international research thermonuclear reactor was signed earlier this year. The reactor is to be built in France.

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