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The European Space Agency wants to mine the moon for oxygen and water

January 23, 2019

The moon may look barren, but its hidden resources have multiple space agencies eyeing its potential.

The news: This week, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced a deal with ArianeGroup, parent company of launch provider Arianespace, to study and prep a possible 2025 moon mission. The goal: mine the lunar surface for resources. They have also recruited former Google Lunar X Prize competitor PTScientists to provide the lander for the mission.

Precious moon dust: The ESA is focusing on regolith (a.k.a. lunar soil), which contains both oxygen and water. When extracted from the soil, these resources can be used to create fuel and life-support systems in space. Other countries, like China and India, have also investigated pulling helium-3 from the moon; this substance is extremely rare on Earth, but abundant there. It could be used as safer nuclear fuel to power spacecraft.

What’s next? Well, ESA still has to long way to go. This is step one in a long process. The initial contract lasts for a year and will decide whether or not this mission is feasible. That means looking at how the materials could be mined and stored on the moon and the technology that needs to be developed. The results of the study will likely be used to attempt to get funding for the full-fledged mission in 2025.

Why it matters: More space agencies are looking at space mining as they plan longer-term crewed missions away from Earth. Being able to acquire fuel and oxygen after liftoff makes for lighter takeoff loads and could enable extended stays. This year, more countries and former Lunar X Prize competitors are planning moon landings, so it could also bring interest in moon mining to the forefront once again.

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