India to send a rover to moon in October in search of a trillion-dollar nuclear fuel: ISRO

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As per a Bloomberg report, India’s space program wants to go where no nation has gone before – to the south side of the moon. And once it gets there, it will study the potential for mining a source of waste-free nuclear energy that could be worth trillions of dollars.

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will launch a rover in October this year to explore virgin territory on the lunar surface and analyze crust samples for signs of water and helium-3. That isotope is limited on earth yet so abundant on the moon that it theoretically could meet global energy demands for 250 years if harnessed.

“The countries which have the capacity to bring that source from the moon to Earth will dictate the process,’’ said K. Sivan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation to Bloomberg. “I don’t want to be just a part of them, I want to lead them.’’

The mission would solidify India’s place among the fleet of explorers racing to the moon, Mars and beyond for scientific, commercial or military gains. The governments of the U.S., China, India, Japan and Russia are competing with startups and billionaires Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson to launch satellites, robotic landers, astronauts and tourists into the cosmos.

The rover landing is one step in an envisioned series for ISRO that includes putting a space station in orbit and, potentially, an Indian crew on the moon. The government has yet to set a timeframe.

The upcoming mission will cost about $125 million. A primary objective is to search for deposits of helium-3. Solar winds have bombarded the moon with immense quantities of helium-3 because it’s not protected by a magnetic field like Earth is.

The presence of helium-3 was confirmed in moon samples returned by the Apollo missions, and Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt, a geologist who walked on the moon in December 1972, is an avid proponent of mining helium-3.

There are an estimated 1 million metric tons of helium-3 embedded in the moon — enough to meet the world’s current energy demands for at least two, and possibly as many as five, centuries.

This isotope could provide safer nuclear energy in a fusion reactor, since it is not radioactive and would not produce dangerous waste products.

Shekhar Ghosh is consulting editor, Indoasiancommodities.com. He has edited and written for publications like Business India, Business Standard, Business Today, Outlook and many other international publications. He can be reached at shekhar.ghosh@indoasiancommodities.in.

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