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06_SpaceElevator.jpeg

A space elevator is a great idea who's time is still a few decades away - at least on this planet. The incredible forces a cable from Earth to space will have to endure to support even its own weight will require further development of carbon nanotubes or some other exotic material.

The Moon is a different story:

On the Moon, the force of gravity is one sixth of what we feel here on Earth, and a space elevator cable is well within our current manufacturing technology. Stretch a cable up from the surface of the Moon, and you'd have an inexpensive method of delivering minerals and supplies into Earth orbit...
...Instead of exotic nanotubes with extreme tensile strengths, the cable could be built using high-strength commercially available materials, like Kevlar or Spectra. In fact, [Jerome] Pearson has zeroed in on a commercial fiber called M5, which he calculates would only weigh 6,800 kg for a full cable that would support a lifting capacity of 200 kg at the base. This is well within the capabilities of the most powerful rockets supplied by Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Arianespace. One launch [would be sufficient] to put an elevator on the Moon...

What's the Moon got that would be useful? Plenty. Once this system was put in place it would be less expensive to get materials into Earth orbit from the Moon than from the Earth. If ice is found on the Moon (and many believe its there) that could supply water, oxygen, and hydrogen for fuel for the Moon itself and for space stations. Lunar soil would be useful for shielding space stations.

The most promising resource on the Moon is helium-3.

Researchers and space enthusiasts see helium 3 as the perfect fuel source: extremely potent, nonpolluting, with virtually no radioactive by-product. Proponents claim itís the fuel of the 21st century. The trouble is, hardly any of it is found on Earth. But there is plenty of it on the Moon.

Where can helium-3 be found on the Moon?

Future prospectors on the Moon may be assisted by an intriguing new [new in 1998] lunar map developed by scientists in Arizona and Hawaii.
It shows places where the element helium-3 can be found in the lunar dirt.
helium-3 moon map
"The red indicates an abundance of helium-3 on the Moon's surface."

How much Helium-3 is on the Moon?

To extract one ton of helium-3, it is estimated that 200 million tons of lunar soil would have to be processed [in helium-3 rich regions of the Moon]. That is equivalent to mining the top 2 meters of a region 10 kilometers square.

Sounds like a lot of work for a little helium-3.

It would only require 25 tons of helium-3 to provide all the power that the United States needs in a year.

What's that in dollars?

Today helium-3 would have a cash value of $4 billion a ton in terms of its energy equivalent in oil.

Of course energy prices would quickly drop if this energy source became available. What's this in terms of energy expended for energy gained?

Energy calculations suggest that the energy gained from Helium-3 mined on the Moon and shipped back to Earth would be 250 times that used to obtain it.

And that's without the Lunar Elevator shortcut. What's the status on the elevator?

[Jerome] Pearson first published his idea of a lunar elevator back in 1979 and he's been pitching it ever since. This year, though, NASA's not laughing, they're listening. Pearson's company, Star Technology and Research , was recently awarded a $75,000 grant from NASA's Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) for a six-month study to investigate the idea further. If the idea proves to be promising, Pearson could receive a larger grant to begin overcoming some of the engineering challenges, and look for partners inside and NASA and out to help in its development.

Comments

Wow, that helium 3 stuff is really exciting. Talk about your commercial rationale for settling the moon! We need some larger-than-life business figure (a Heinlien character) to jump on this thing. I'm ready to invest.

Of course, watch out as greenie weenies insist that we do nothing to upset the moon's pristine, lifeless "ecosystem."

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