Mining of Helium-3 on the Moon: Resource, Technology, and Commerciality—A Business Perspective
Dieter Beike, 2013. "Mining of Helium-3 on the Moon: Resource, Technology, and Commerciality—A Business Perspective", Energy Resources for Human Settlement in the Solar System and Earth’s Future in Space, William A. Ambrose, James F. Reilly, II, Douglas C. Peters
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Lunar helium-3 is considered one of the potential resources for utilization as a fuel source for future Earth-based nuclear fusion plants. With a potential start-up of a commercial fusion power plant by the year 2050, the author describes technology and commercial aspects for a lunar helium-3 mining operation that could fuel such a power plant. Barriers for development are mostly inferred to exist in the fusion part of the helium-3 value chain. Commercially, a helium-3 operation would have to compete with other energy supply sources that might become available in the future and that could be developed in a stepwise function instead of in an all-encompassing effort. The author suggests that space technology research, development, and demonstration and fusion research should be pursued separately and should only form a symbiosis once a common fit caused by separately achieved scientific and/or technical progress justifies a joint commitment of financial resources. Research, development, and demonstration costs for these programs will be several hundred billion dollars, which will mostly be provided by public investments. The private sector, however, is emerging in space technology and could play a significant function in such a value chain, as outlined in the suggested business model. The author does not suggest such an operation as of yet, but instead that only a high-value resource—such as helium-3—could justify such endeavor. However, even then, other difficult-to-extract resources on Earth, such as gas hydrates, most likely would be preferred as an investment opportunity over a lunar mining development.