There are billions of tons of water ice on the poles of the Moon. Shackleton Energy plans to extract lunar water ice, turn it into rocket fuel and create fuel stations in Earth’s orbit. Just like on Earth you won’t get far on a single tank of gas, what we can do in space today is straight-jacketed by how much fuel we can bring along from the Earth’s surface. Our fuel stations will change how we do business in space and jump-start a multi-trillion dollar industry.
Shackleton Energy claims its lunar ice program will cost less than one-tenth of the Apollo program, generates revenue within 4 years and breaks even within 12 years. They claim they can make moon mining happen with $10 billion.
The Economist magazine had a feature on the moon mining effort and Bill Stone. Dr Stone founded the Shackleton Energy Company (SEC) to process water on the Earth’s Moon into oxygen and hydrogen for rocket fuel. It can cost around $16,000 per kilo to send supplies like fuel into low Earth orbit. Transporting fuel to the Moon would cost at least five times as much, says Jeffrey Hoffman, a space-flight expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is familiar with SEC. The ability to produce fuel in space, he thinks, would slash the cost of missions from placing geostationary satellites to interplanetary travel.”
Stone Aerospace is developing a team of robots to hunt for microbial life on one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa. Putting robots on Europa, some 628 million kilometres from Earth, would be relatively straightforward—rovers have been placed successfully on Earth’s Moon and on Mars. And NASA’s Galileo spacecraft has laid the groundwork with reconnaissance flights. If Europa harbors life, it is most likely to be in a dark ocean sealed by an ice cap kilometres thick.
To investigate how to get below that ice cap, a team led by Dr Stone is due to arrive on Alaska’s Matanuska glacier in June to begin testing an ice-penetrating robot. This would disgorge swimming robots, which Stone Aerospace is developing, into Europa’s ocean. One model, DepthX, has been built with $5m from NASA and help from groups including Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Texas, Austin, and Southwest Research Institute, a Texas-based R and D organisation.
Late in 2015 a new NASA-funded Stone Aerospace robot, named ARTEMIS, will swim under Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf to scan for life with a deep-ultraviolet laser that induces fluorescence in microbes. It will also map the shelf’s underside to help calibrate the airborne ice-penetrating radar that NASA’s proposed Europa Clipper mission would use to measure ice thickness as it flies close to the surface. The ice may be tens of kilometres thick in some areas, so identifying the thinnest spots for the penetrator to get through is important. Even then, building the robot will be the most technologically daunting aspect, says Bart Hogan, Stone Aerospace’s chief engineer.
SOURCES – Shackleton Energy, Economist magazine
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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