Washington: Mining the Moon is a very lucrative prospect and has become a serious vision, it has been revealed.
With an estimated 1.6 billion tonnes of water ice at its poles and an abundance of rare-earth elements hidden below its surface, the Moon is rich ground for mining.
The science writer, Richard Corfield, explained how private firms and space agencies are dreaming of tapping into these lucrative resources and turning the Moon's grey, barren landscape into a money-making conveyer belt.
Since NASA disbanded its manned Apollo missions to the Moon over 40 years ago, unmanned spaceflight has made giant strides and has identified a bountiful supply of water ice at the north and south poles of the Moon.
Texas-based Shackleton Energy Company (SEC) plans to mine the vast reserves of water ice and convert it into rocket propellant in the form of hydrogen and oxygen, which would then be sold to space partners in low Earth orbit.
SEC plans to extract the water ice by sending humans and robots to mine the lunar poles, and then use some of the converted products to power mining hoppers, lunar rovers and life support for its own activities.
Moon Express, another privately funded lunar-resources company, was also interested in using water ice as fuel, but in a different form. It plans to fuel its operations and spacecraft using "high-test peroxide" (HTP), which has a long and illustrious history as a propellant.
As for mining the rare-earth elements on the Moon, China was making the most noticeable headway. The Jade Rabbit lander successfully touched down on the Moon in December 2013 and the Chinese space agency has publicly suggested establishing a base on the Moon as it has been done on the South Pole and the North Pole.
With a near-monopoly on the dwindling terrestrial rare-earth elements, which are vital for everything from mobile phones to computers and car batteries, it was no surprise that China may want to cast its net wider.