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NASA Considers Harvesting Moon’s Resources

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Artist's rendition of America's first private lunar microlander and commercial robot, developed by Moon Express. | Image by Moon Express

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Companies are looking at the possibility of coordinating with NASA to harvest “resources” from the Moon and other astronomical bodies like asteroids orbiting the Earth, reaping a potential trillion-dollar freight of precious minerals and fuels.

Mike Provenzano, director of Planetary Mobility at Astrobotic is among scientists who believe mining such resources, though he did not specify them by name, could be used to power everyday electronic devices and vehicles.

“The moon is really created from the same materials that Earth is created from,” Provenzano told the Wall Street Journal.

Astrobotic is “the Moon company and more,” boasts the Pittsburg, Pennsylvania-based firm on its website. “We’re in the business of delivering your scientific instruments, technologies, ideas, and innovations to space.”

Sharad Bhaskaran, mission director at Astrobotic, told WSJ that the goal of exploration is to gather minerals and bring them back to Earth in an economically viable way.

But as investments in space startups reach record highs, the WSJ reports, questions about the costs versus the benefits of space travel arise.

Ian Crawford, a professor of planetary science and astrobiology at Birkbeck College, London, reviewed potentially economically valuable resources on the Moon.

He concluded, “Although it is difficult to identify any single lunar resource that will be sufficiently valuable to drive a lunar resource extraction industry on its own … the Moon nevertheless does possess abundant raw materials that are of potential economic interest.”

Astrobotic is working with NASA to develop lander and rover projects, which the company says could help unlock the Moon’s “potential in the future.”

Astrobotic announced in 2021 that it had opened Lunar Regolith Lab, a test facility filled with GRC-1 “regolith simulant,” or granules designed to mimic the lunar surface. Loaded with more than 42,000 pounds of this mechanical equivalent to the lunar terrain, the lab is used to replicate some of the most challenging driving conditions a rover could encounter on the Moon, the company said.

“This new lab enables in-house testing for its team and partners to verify lunar rover performance,” the company stated. “It has been used to test Astrobotic’s CubeRover for seven NASA contracts and two upcoming flight opportunities.”

NASA designed the “commercial lunar payload program” to contract with companies like Astrobotic to bring payloads to the surface of the Moon on robotic vehicles.

The Astrobotic project could become the first American spacecraft to land on the Moon since the last Apollo mission more than 50 years ago, Bhaskaran said.

Astrobotic’s “PEREGRINE: MISSION 1” is an undertaking to deliver the first commercial lunar lander. If successful, these technologies may be used in the NASA  Artemis mission — NASA’s space plan to return humans to the Moon to consider potential inhabitation construction on the lunar surface.

The plan includes building a space camp and eventually developing the infrastructure and capabilities to stay on the Moon.

Still, establishing a permanent base would likely involve destroying large quantities of the Moon’s clear soil, called “regolith,” to make way for buildings. That process could destroy information about how the Moon — and by extension, the Earth — formed, the WSJ reports.

Earlier in June, NASA announced it would launch three rockets into orbit from Northern Territory, Australia, which will be the first time the space research agency has launched rockets from a commercial facility outside the U.S., The Dallas Express reports.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced that the country had awarded regulatory authorization for the rockets to be launched from privately owned Equatorial Launch Australia’s (ELA) Arnhem Space Centre.

The launch of an uncrewed capsule from the U.S.-New Zealand company Rocket Lab to the Moon for the CAPSTONE mission, scheduled for June 27, was postponed, according to UPI News. CAPSTONE will now be launched on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket from the company’s Launch Complex in Mahia, New Zealand, no earlier than June 28.

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