Over 100 Times More Energy Efficient Moon Mining By Sorting Ice Grains

Micrometeoroid bombardment has already broken most solid material in the upper part of the regolith into fine grains. This includes solid material of all compositions, including the ice, which is as hard as granite at PSR temperatures and is therefore essentially another type of rock. These ice grains are intermixed with all the other minerals, so a simple, ultra-low-energy grain-sorting process can extract the ice without phase change. As another benefit it can extract the 1 wt% free metal known to be in lunar soil, again with very little energy. The ice can then be hauled to the chemical processing unit in solid phase and converted into rocket propellant.

They had originally estimated the 800 kW power needed for thermal extraction can be reduced to less than 100 watts using the new method. The more detailed work has a conservative estimate of over 100 times greater energy efficiency. This affects the entire architecture of the mining operation producing extensive economic benefit.

Written By Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com

10 thoughts on “Over 100 Times More Energy Efficient Moon Mining By Sorting Ice Grains”

  1. Great paper. Paul Spudis was the one with the best over all practical plan IMHO. Yet there is still a clear bias towards doing stuff *on* the Moon rather than in Space, only going for material as needed. Put a scoop on SS or Blue Moon side, scoop rego into bags hanging there, return them to ISS. Results from one launch, all sorts of things can then get started. Fabricate mass driver frames.

  2. "Aqua factorem" gives me a headache. What is that supposed to mean? Maybe aquā factōrem "the doer/maker (accusative) with water"? I wish people would not try to use Latin if they don't know how, it sounds like those 2000s-era Chinese t-shirts with bad English in them.

  3. Exactly. In the cited case, the rego is not dug, so the work of moving it to Space is not started by the process. However, it is a serious look at robot potential, rather than just people. Profit!

  4. Before building anything I would go see what's there first. I think future exploration of the moon should be done with an eye towards resource exploitation. Pure scientific exploration will always be short lived.

  5. Here is a bit more meat. The process aims for a purely robotic operation to extract water-ice dust grains along with pure metallic by-product. Three modules, estimated at a $4 billion investment, will process the dust in permanently shadowed polar regions. 

    The ice crystal dust fraction will be recovered in a pure form by sublimation vaporization, rather than incurring a melt-liquid-vapor-condensation process energy penalty. Electrical splitting of water acquired from the purified frost will yield propellant for initial use in refueling rocket tugs , proposed as LEO to GEO transfer vehicles.

    Manned vehicles and habitat operating in lunar space will also be served from this supply system. Done properly, this would significantly reduce operational costs.


  6. This process is much easier to perform in Space, which is easily done once the rego is dug up. Moving the scooped grains to the machine is only one process, after which everything is hard on the Moon, compared to orbit. Go ahead and launch it to where everything is useful, if for nothing else than radiation shielding. And everything is easy to do. Space, in the Sunlight.

  7. Benefaction is a good idea, but it would be nice to know exactly what process they had in mind. This seems a little light on detail.

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