New study provides maps, ice favorability index to companies looking to mine the moon

University of Central Florida

IMAGE: UCF Planetary Scientist Kevin Cannon led a team that created the model system. view more  Credit: University of Central Florida

The 49ers who panned for gold during California’s Gold Rush didn’t really know where they might strike it rich. They had word of mouth and not much else to go on.

Researchers at the University of Central Florida want to give prospectors looking to mine the moon better odds of striking gold, which on the moon means rich deposits of water ice that can be turned into resources, like fuel, for space missions.

A team lead by planetary scientist Kevin Cannon created an Ice Favorability Index. The geological model explains the process for ice formation at the poles of the moon, and mapped the terrain, which includes craters that may hold ice deposits. The model, which has been published in the peer-reviewed journal Icarus, accounts for what asteroid impacts on the surface of the moon may do to deposits of ice found meters beneath the surface.

“Despite being our closest neighbor, we still don’t know a lot about water on the moon, especially how much there is beneath the surface,” Cannon says. “It’s important for us to consider the geologic processes that have gone on to better understand where we may find ice deposits and how to best get to them with the least amount of risk.”

The team was inspired by mining companies on Earth, which conduct detailed geological work, and take core samples before investing in costly extraction sites. Mining companies conduct field mappings, take core samples from the potential site and try to understand the geological reasons behind the formation of the particular mineral they are looking for in an area of interest. In essence they create a model for what a mining zone might look like before deciding to plunk down money to drill.

The team at UCF followed the same approach using data collected about the moon over the years and ran simulations in the lab. While they couldn’t collect core samples, they had data from satellite observations and from the first trip to the moon.

Why Mine the Moon

In order for humans to explore the solar system and beyond, spacecraft have to be able to launch and continue on their long missions. One of the challenges is fuel. There are no gas stations in space, which means spacecraft have to carry extra fuel with them for long missions and that fuel weighs a lot. Mining the moon could result in creating fuel , which would help ease the cost of flights since spacecraft wouldn’t have to haul the extra fuel.

Water ice can be purified and processed to produce both hydrogen and oxygen for propellent, according to several previously published studies. Sometime in the future, this process could be completed on the moon effectively producing a gas station for spacecraft. Asteroids may also provide similar resources for fuel.

Some believe a system of these “gas stations” would be the start of the industrialization of space.

Several private companies are exploring mining techniques to employ on the moon. Both Luxembourg and the United States have adopted legislation giving citizens and corporations ownership rights over resources mined in space, including the moon, according to the study.

“The idea of mining the moon and asteroids isn’t science fiction anymore,” says UCF physics Professor and co-author Dan Britt. “There are teams around the world looking to find ways to make this happen and our work will help get us closer to making the idea a reality.”


The study was supported by NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute cooperative agreement with the Center for Lunar and Asteroid Surface Science (CLASS) based at UCF.

This is not the first time Cannon nor UCF has contributed to the study of the soil of other planets. In 2018 they launched the Exolith Lab, which produces experimental Martian, Lunar and asteroid dirt for research and testing.

Cannon joined UCF in 2017. He has several degrees including a doctorate in planetary geology from Brown University. He has published more than 10 peer-reviewed papers and is a frequent guest speaker at universities nationwide because of his work in the composition of small bodies and Mars, and in in-situ resource utilization, and aqueous alteration.

From EurekAlert!

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Ron Long
June 2, 2020 6:14 pm

Nobody is going to mine the moon. Reminds me of the Mark Twain comment in his book “Roughing It”: A gold mine is a hole in the ground with a fool at the bottom and a liar at the top”. By the way, I have some kryptonite for sale….

Reply to  Ron Long
June 2, 2020 6:59 pm

Heavier than air craft will never fly.

J Mac
Reply to  Ron Long
June 2, 2020 7:54 pm

“Flight faster than the speed of sound will kill the pilots!”
“Man can’t survive in outer space!”
‘They’ll never put a man on the moon!”
“Ya damn kids! Get off my lawn!”

Pessimists are sideline curmudgeons, throwing rocks at the hard working folks advancing science, technology, and civilization, step by step through time.

Ron Long
Reply to  J Mac
June 3, 2020 3:25 am

See Geoff Sherrington below.

Reply to  Ron Long
June 3, 2020 5:48 am

Two wrongs then.

It’s expensive to carry anything into space and water happens to be something necessary for life. It makes sense to mine it on the moon if it is possible.

J Mac
Reply to  Ron Long
June 3, 2020 9:11 am

See ‘Pessimists are sideline curmudgeons…’ above.

David Blenkinsop
Reply to  Ron Long
June 2, 2020 8:05 pm

Some quotations from Mark Twain are pretty good, but this one seems over sarcastic somehow.

I mean, obviously there is no gold anywhere, someone just painted some rocks yellow, I guess?

As for kryptonite, what’s Superman got that Jerry Seinfeld ain’t got?

Reply to  Ron Long
June 2, 2020 8:16 pm

If to swap your kryptonite for chloroquine you want , to the right blog you have come .

Reply to  Ron Long
June 3, 2020 7:30 am

NASA funding should’ve ended in the decade after Challenger and Hubble. It would’ve saved the lives of the crew of the Columbia, too.

Paul Penrose
Reply to  Ron Long
June 3, 2020 10:15 am

Twain said a lot of witty things. Some could be considered wisdom, but a lot of it was nonsense that just reflected his particular biases. Say, would you be willing to trade your kryptonite for some unobtainium?

John Tillman
Reply to  Paul Penrose
June 3, 2020 4:18 pm

Some mines in CA did after all contain gold. Or at least some washed away hillsides did.

William Abbott
June 2, 2020 6:20 pm

Water ice and actual liquid water have not been on the moon forever. There is no atmosphere, it is transitory. It is recently deposited by small comets. Dr. Louis Frank predicted the discovery of water on the moon. He discovered the solar system’s small comet flux.

June 2, 2020 7:58 pm

Madness, sheer madness to talk about mining the moon.
The talk is not from experienced explorers. It is from grant seekers after publicity and easy money. Geoff S

Paul Penrose
Reply to  Geoff Sherrington
June 3, 2020 10:11 am

That’s what people said about the idea of putting men on the moon. More recently they said that Elon Musk was crazy if he thought he could just start up a company to provide launch services to orbit; only governments could do that. Right now as I type this, there are two humans on board the ISS that got there on a SpaceX vehicle. Unless we let the anarchists destroy civilization, we are on the cusp of a new push into space; this time spearheaded by commercial interests.

Ron Long
Reply to  Paul Penrose
June 3, 2020 11:56 am

Paul, for the record I told my teacher in the fifth grade (me at age 11 or so?) that men were going to go to the moon and she explained how an airplane couldn’t fly without an atmosphere for lift. I pressed on and said rockets used a different mechanism, so I’m actually an optimist. The issue is what motive to mine on the moon? You can’t bring back anything with value other than as curiosity or science. Use the moon as a jumping off station for Mars? And fabricate part of the system for this there 8on the moon)? Unobtainium? Do you take checks?

Paul Penrose
Reply to  Ron Long
June 4, 2020 9:32 am

The reason to min the moon is not to return anything to Earth, at least not initially. The materials would be used in-situ to support bases there on the moon. If we are to become a space faring species, learning how to live on the moon will provide us with invaluable experience. And it’s a handy place for refueling, etc. since the gravity well isn’t nearly as deep as Earth’s.

J Mac
Reply to  Paul Penrose
June 3, 2020 2:36 pm

Ron Long’s ancestors were probably on the docks, protesting the sailing of the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria. “You won’t find anything of value out there! It’s a waste of money! There be dragons!”

Just another side line curmudgeon, throwing rocks….

Bruce of Newcastle
June 2, 2020 7:59 pm

Ice is iron.

First take the ice, warm it up then electrolyse it. Collect the hydrogen and contact it with Moon dirt at about 1000 C, using a solar furnace to get the temperature. A magnet can extract the iron particles. Squeeze them together and you have sintered iron beams and struts to build stuff with! The oxygen also produced by the electrolysis step is a nice byproduct for the astronauts to breathe.

Recover the H2O vapor from the DRI step and recycle it to the electrolyser.

June 2, 2020 8:25 pm

Wouldn’t using the moon’s gravitational field as a slingshot to gain speed on a journey to some other planet be cheaper than stopping there after a relatively short hop from the earth to get some more fuel that would cost a lot to mine and produce?

David Blenkinsop
Reply to  noaaprogrammer
June 2, 2020 10:01 pm

Even using tricks like that, it would be my understanding that it is hard to get to Mars, for instance, in less than 8 months or so, using regular chemically fueled rockets, especially if you are accelerating the relatively large mass of payload required for a manned mission as such. Of course, the more months you spend on the trip to another planet, the worse the health effects of cosmic radiation are going to be (and yes, it’s really hard to fully shield against that sort of radiation, too).

On a more optimistic note, the far side of the moon (either on the surface or maybe from the L2 point beyond the moon) could be a good launch site for a nuclear pulse driven rocket, like this, say:

The referenced article says about 3 months to get to Mars then, so, shave 5 months off the travel time, basically.

June 2, 2020 8:43 pm

What does he earn (together with his academic mates and preferred suppliers).
No wonder they’re rioting in the streets . . .

Hocus Locus
June 2, 2020 9:30 pm

Will the Moon have it’s own ENSO Meter?
People are watching video streams of civil unrest
I am watching the ENSO Meter

June 2, 2020 10:00 pm

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. ROFLMAO. Obviously these eejuts don’t have the brains to calculate the cost per kg of shipping anything from earth to moon and back again vs the value created by the activity. Why would they – the government pays their wages – free money.

peter schell
June 2, 2020 10:14 pm

I firmly believe that the true exploitation of space will be automated.

By the time we advance to the point where flights to and from the moon are economical our robotic skills will have advanced to the point where there will be no need for an actual human presence. Self replicating factories will mine the moon, and maybe even build environmental habitats that people who wish to do so can live in.

Ian Coleman
June 2, 2020 11:43 pm

We should go to the moon to get water? I wouldn’t go to the moon to get whisky. If all the Miss Universe winners from Mars, it would still be way cheaper to import wives for Donald Trump from Slovenia. Can we not add?

Interested Observer
Reply to  Ian Coleman
June 3, 2020 12:24 am


Most people are, in fact, innumerate – especially when it comes to really big numbers. It gets even worse when it comes to spending other people’s money – which is why so many people still believe in socialism and the “virtues” of big government. A lot of people prefer to focus on their idealized vision of the goal and don’t actually care about the realities of the means to achieving that goal. Hence, all the pipe-dreamers and pie-in-the-sky eaters (who pop up whenever there is a post about space on this site) can’t comprehend the enormous costs involved in exploring space and the relatively low return on the investment of sending humans to do jobs that can be accomplished cheaper by robots.

As far as colonization goes, we are so far away from doing that on any meaningful scale that is pointless to base any plans to “save” our species upon it. Our time, money and effort is better spent on sorting out our problems here on Earth because, if we can’t do that we’re doomed anyway.

Coeur de Lion
June 3, 2020 1:55 am

‘Space’ is rather large. Our nearest star, uninhabitable Alpha Centauri is over four light years away. Ian Banks’ The Player of Games’ has sentient space ships at ‘kilolight’ velocities yet reaching the edges of the Culture was time-consuming. We’d need some serious technological investment after we get over street riots, coronavirus and socialism.

David Blenkinsop
June 3, 2020 1:56 am

As we are finding out in the current Lock Down era, staying home and watching pictures on TV is often cheaper than going anywhere. Unless of course, this leads to frustration and a desire to go out looting, say, maybe then you can actually make some money, as in travel, steal things, etc.? Anyway, sure, if it’s not important for people to go to the moon for science and/or commercial development, just watch TV instead, or view webcam sites on your cell phone.

For some reason I think that societies that actually go places and build useful industries are going to outdo the ‘save pennies by staying home people’. However, I can prove nothing, and, as they say ‘a penny saved is a penny earned’ – ?

June 3, 2020 2:02 am

Well, apart from Bruce of Newcastle, that about does it for me for this site.
The clueless, pontificating about things they know nothing about and are too damn lazy to research.
Pity, as Jo Nova is also still out to lunch, “Karen-ing” about the virus.
Doesn’t do much for the anti AGW cause.

David Blenkinsop
Reply to  Mike Borgelt
June 3, 2020 3:24 am

Mike Borgelt:
I haven’t followed Jo Nova’s page lately. Looking there, it appears she really is ‘Karening’ away about how badly Sweden is doing relative to Norway, for some reason! Of course, the death rate comparisons come out very differently depending which countries you ‘cherry pick’. If I reference the page for instance, I can see the million per capita deaths for Norway at ’44’, which is pretty low. At the same time the same statistic for Belgium, not really that far away, is way up there at *820* deaths per million! If we were to complain away about which countries are so bad and careless with so many deaths, I guess Jo Nova would conclude that Belgium must not have locked down nearly hard enough?

From my perspective, Sweden continues to be plenty average enough in it’s CoVID related statistics to justify the conclusion that *avoiding* the draconian measure of complete business shutdowns really didn’t hurt them significantly! At least I can’t see how someone like Jo Nova can pretend to have corroborated that actively harming people’s livelihoods is the way to go! Compare Sweden to Belgium, or to the UK, or France. or Ireland. or Spain, and tell me how anyone thinks that ‘lock downs’ are the key?

In any case, controversy can seem frustrating at times, whether one is focused on the climate change thing, or on anything else, I suppose.

June 3, 2020 5:11 am

“Mining the moon?” is one of the newly tested IQ test questions.

Ian Coleman
June 3, 2020 5:49 am

You want to hear “innumerate,” Observer. We have a science fiction author in Canada named Spider Robinson whose argument for returning to the moon was that there were millions of tons of iron ore on the moon. He wrote that the tonnage of iron on the moon was so great that, if we mined it and sold it and split the proceeds among us all, everybody on Earth would be a millionaire. Swear to God, that’s what he wrote.

Never mind that he ignored the cost of the mining and the transporting of all that valuable iron. Mr. Robinson actually thought that, if there were abundant supplies of iron, that it could still be sold at the same price it would command if it were scarce. Well, Spider, if everybody had iron to sell, who would need to buy it? If anybody did want to buy it, there would be billions of sellers of it, and the price of it would be nearly zero. Duh, as we say.

Now the thing is, Mr. Robinson is intelligent enough to write novels that other people buy and read, but has so little understanding of mathematical thought that it as if he were mentally handicapped. This is actually quite common among literate people.

Interested Observer
Reply to  Ian Coleman
June 3, 2020 7:10 am

Thank you. That made me laugh out loud.

I have often wanted to make the exact point of your second paragraph to the would-be moon miners but, I thought it might be too hard for them to understand. Apparently, the law of supply and demand is unknown to them.

June 3, 2020 7:52 am

everybody on Earth would be a millionaire
Don’t need to go to the moon for that. Trudeau just needs to boost the CERB payment. Now that everything is on computers there is no need to print money, solving the inflation problem. Just direct deposit $ 100,000 each month to each Canadian. In just a few short months Canada would be able to buy and sell the US, China, and the EU many time over.

Tom Abbott
June 3, 2020 7:54 am

From the article: “Water ice can be purified and processed to produce both hydrogen and oxygen for propellent, according to several previously published studies.”

I saw a design to use the water, without processing it, by essentially propelling an orbital transfer vehicle with a Tea Kettle-type engine exhausting hot steam. I thought that was kind of a neat idea. It saves a lot of processing.

And to all the naysayers: Private enterprise in space is going to make your complaints look silly.

Trashing the human movement into space is not going to stop it.

J Mac
Reply to  Tom Abbott
June 3, 2020 9:09 am


Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Tom Abbott
June 3, 2020 8:56 pm

“I saw a design to use the water, without processing it, by essentially propelling an orbital transfer vehicle with a Tea Kettle-type engine exhausting hot steam.”

Do steam rockets work? . . . absolutely.

Can a multi-stage steam rocket get into orbit from Earth’s surface? . . . almost certainly not (its deliverable Isp is too low).

Can an orbital transfer vehicle use steam propulsion? . . . maybe, but why do this when so many better system-level propulsion options exist?

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Gordon A. Dressler
June 4, 2020 4:15 am

“Can an orbital transfer vehicle use steam propulsion? . . . maybe, but why do this when so many better system-level propulsion options exist?”

I’m not necessarily promoting steam rockets, I just thought I would throw that idea out there for discussion. I believe it is helpful to think outside the box.

Ian Coleman
June 3, 2020 9:20 am

Hello, Tom Abbott. Private enterprise in space is going to make my complaints look silly only if the laws of Physics turn out to be whimsies that Elon Musk can overcome with money. The Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs were possible because of huge allocations of government money, so ordinary economic considerations were mooted, but that still left Physical limitations that could not be gainsaid by the philosophical descendants of King Canute.

The astronauts of Apollo 11 still had to travel 238,900 miles to the moon, plant a plaque bearing the words “Richard Nixon” and return to Earth. Even if they’d had the entire U.S. defense budget to spend, they couldn’t have stayed on the moon long enough to build a playhouse let alone a colony, because such an endeavour is impossible at any price. And it always will be.

Reply to  Ian Coleman
June 3, 2020 10:13 am

The enterprises of 1492 and 1607, among others, were I assume largely considered boondoggles by many. What has happened since is self-evident.

I suspect that the very process of figuring out how to exploit resoruces on the moon and near space will lead to innovations/inventions that we have no glimmer of ATM. I can easily imagine people in the next century being puzzled as to why there was any debate at all.

Paul Penrose
Reply to  Ian Coleman
June 3, 2020 10:28 am

“And it always will be.”
Because you are omniscient and can foresee all future technological advances? That’s as short-sighted as the “experts” that claimed circumnavigating the world was impossible, or flight, or general purpose computing machines, or putting objects into orbit, or reusing rocket boosters.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Ian Coleman
June 3, 2020 1:24 pm

“Even if they’d had the entire U.S. defense budget to spend, they couldn’t have stayed on the moon long enough to build a playhouse let alone a colony, because such an endeavour is impossible at any price. And it always will be.”

You are certainly sure of yourself, Ian.

There are a lot of people out there working to prove you wrong.

It is certainly possible to build a vehicle that can travel back and forth from Earth orbit to Lunar orbit.

It is certainly possible to build a vehicle that can deliver materials to the Lunar surface from Lunar orbit.

It is certainly possible for humans to construct a base on the Moon where they can live.

What exactly is it that you think is impossible about exploiting the Moon?

It’s not all that complicted. It’s just step by step.

Reply to  Tom Abbott
June 3, 2020 2:56 pm

It’s complicated if you expect NASA to do everything.
The “space business” or what typically called, the satellite market is about 400 billion
dollars per year, NASA itself has 20 billion dollar budget. You talking NASA leveraging
the money it gets from tax payers, but NASA is small part of the 400 billion market.
Or US Military space is bigger than NASA and both a small part of the 400 billion per year
market {or it’s global, but include all governmental involvement in world is still a small part of it- NASA dominates other country’s space agencies budgets}.
So, private sector {globally} does the satellite market. And private sector could do more than just
the satellite market- or satellite market is profitable, if other aspects of space activity were profitable, they do it. Or NASA does what can’t done {easily} that has a profit.
The Moon probably has billion tons of water which could be profitably mined.
Some amount of the billion of tons of water could be worth about $500 per kg or$ 500,000 per ton.
You can’t simply times a billion tons of water times $500,000 per ton and get the number of
500 trillion dollar of lunar water. There probably less than say 2 trillion dollars of water.
But you could say there is 10,000 tons of lunar water which worth about $500,000 per ton or 5 billion dollars of lunar water. And the next 10,000 tons of lunar water will worth less than 5 billion dollar. I might guess there might be 100,000 tons of lunar water which is easiest to mine. In terms time it takes to extract it, and energy needed to extract. I could be you imagine there is only 100,000 tons of such mineable and find there instead 1 million tons, and 500,000 tons of that water is easier than first 100,000 tons of water to mine. But you could have less than 100,000 tons of lunar water to extract, but by the time you extract 50,000 tons of lunar the lunar water has much lower price than 500,000 per ton, say 200,000 tons. And water you mine later which harder to mine could even a lower price than $200,000 per ton. Or one could get to point where lunar water is $10,000 per ton and ten times harder to mine, than the first 100,000 tons. Or “likely” in future, one mining what could be considered “unminable” and price of lunar could be less than $10 per kg or 10,000 per ton.
One of many reasons one still make profit at 1/50th of price of water, is mining something else, or is one of many things you selling.
Or it’s thought there is 2 billion tons of H2 gas in the top 1 meter of regolith. What is gross value of that hydrogen {which would required mining every square km of entire lunar surface].
When lunar water is worth $500 per kg {in the beginning} LH2 is worth about $4000 per kg. And by time start large scale mining operations needed to mine this H2, hydrogen could worth about $1000 per kg or million dollars per ton. 2 billion tons times million is a 1000 trillion dollars.
But it follow what water does. The first million tons, might be billion dollar of H2, but by 5th million tons, it will be far less than billion dollar per million ton. So not going to mine all it, going to mine most mineable parts of moon. And don’t even have chance to predict price of H2 within 100 years after starting. So gross worth could be 1 to 5 trillion dollars over a century of time. Of course I am also talking about also mining He-3, but I think the H2 is worth more than the much rarer He-3. And might get tens billion of dollars from He-3 and maybe a lot is exported to Earth and it makes He-3 on Earth a lot cheaper than it is now.

June 3, 2020 1:19 pm

–Why Mine the Moon
In order for humans to explore the solar system and beyond, spacecraft have to be able to launch and continue on their long missions. One of the challenges is fuel. —

It doesn’t take much rocket fuel to get to Mars, but takes about 8 months to get to Mars from Earth and if used more rocket fuel- 6 to 7 months. If want to get there faster, you can’t use something like a hohmann transfer [which is the most efficient trajectory which adding velocity to the existing earth’s orbital velocity around the sun, but require a long distance of travel]. Getting to Mercury with hohmann transfer take about 105 days- 3 1/2 months. But require a lot more rocket power because you have change the vector of the orbit.
Hohmann is adding or subtracting to orbital velocity- stepping gas pedal or brake pedal- and changing the vector is like turning the steering wheel. And roughly since we travel fast around the Sun, it takes a lot energy to change the direction. Analogy is if ship traveling without any frictional loss at 30 mph, going to Mars is like added 3 mph to your speed- but without friction how do turn. In space you use rocket power to turn and faster you going the harder to is to turn. And at Earth distance from Sun we going about 30 km/sec [66,960 mph}. Though unlike a ship, it doesn’t take much time to turn. So if have rocket power to burn to turn, it takes about 3 1/2 months to get from Earth surface to Mercury surface.
Another thing is hohmann transfer works by sudden acceleration, if very slowly accelerated you would have to changing your vector {turning}. So with low thrust ion rocket, one constantly has rocket power and you spiral outward and requiring a lot more rocket power as require a slight amount of “constant turning”. Or this is not hohmann transfer. To get ion rocket to act like hohmann transfer, you limit rocket burn to point in the orbit, or pick a perigee and only use rocket power at the point in orbit. So LEO orbit about 90 min orbital period, if burn for only 10 mins of orbit at the perigee part of orbit and keeps added to its velocity and the opposite of orbit goes further away from Earth. Nearest to earth perigee remains at say 200 km from Earth and opposite side of orbit raises from 200, to 300, 400, 500 km {etc} further from Earth. It takes a long time, but it’s more efficient. And when say 20,000 km by 200 km orbit, you accelerate at the 20,000 km distance raise the 200 to say 100,000 km, giving a 20,000 by 100,000 km orbit of Earth.
Which is effectively two hohmann transfers.
And if circular orbit period was longer than 90 min, say 90 hours, then you do 10 hours of burn rather than 10 mins.
But also with the above, when go faster in perigee, you have less than 10 min in perigee, progressively get less time to burn the ion engine: 10, 9, 8, 7, etc mins. And spending more and more time at apogee part of orbit, adding hours to the orbital period which was once about 90 mins.

But a simple thing to note, if going to Mars in less time than 8 month, you not doing a hohmann transfer.
Some claim with ion rocket engine one get to Mars in about 39 days. But you could also get to Mars in about 1 month, by using chemical rocket, but it has change the vector rather than doing a hohmann transfer.
Or hohmann transfer uses the least amount of rocket power, and getting to Mars in 30 days requires a lot of rocket fuel. Or with Star Trek it points and goes, because Enterprise has a lot rocket power.
But in distant future we will tend not to use chemical rocket power- we use lots of energy but use more efficient rockets than chemical rocket.
Such as beaming electrical power to vehicle which uses a ion rocket.
Or problem 39 day to Mars with ion is you need a lot of electrical power- there is no way to get that much electrical power with a craft generating that much power. You need magical batteries, magical solar panels, or magical nuclear power. And something like, an Enterprise Ion rocket.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  gbaikie
June 4, 2020 4:35 am

“Such as beaming electrical power to vehicle which uses a ion rocket.”

That’s one of my favorite ideas.

A Solar Power Satellite could be driving all sorts of vehicles all over the Solar System.

We are in a race: The Chinese say they are going to build a Solar Power Satellite by the year 2030.

Where’s NASA’s Solar Power Satellite plan?

Solar Power Satellites can move vehicles around in the Earth/Moon system. They could power small scientific probes that could be sent to every unexplored rock in the solar system and it wouldn’t take decades to reach far-flung objects because the Solar Power Satellite could drive the probes to very high speeds.

Solar Power Satellites could power operations on the Moon. Why put solar cells on the Moon’s surface where they will be collecting lunar dust from day one? Put the solar cells in space and they won’t have that problem.

And for going from the Earth to Mars it looks to me like Buzz Aldrin’s cycling space stations are the way to go. We put them into an orbit that intersects both the Earth and Mars, and once they are in those orbits, they require very little fuel after that. When the cycling station comes near Earth, it would be met by an orbital transfer vehicle which would transfer crew and cargo to the cycling station and it would continue on to Mars, where it would be met by another orbital transfer vehicle which would off-load the people and equipment, and the cycling station would head back to Earth for another load.

Reply to  Tom Abbott
June 4, 2020 9:22 am

“Solar Power Satellites could power operations on the Moon. Why put solar cells on the Moon’s surface where they will be collecting lunar dust from day one? Put the solar cells in space and they won’t have that problem.”
The lunar polar region can get {some locations} solar energy 85% of the time. Less than SPS in GEO but pretty close. Plus with small region of polar region, you encircle the poles and get sunlight constantly {though not when Earth blocking the Sun}.
Of course SPS in GEO is huge region. So lunar lunar region is enough area for lunar energy needs, but enough energy for entire human civilization.
In terms dust, in lunar polar region, you want vertical towers, rather having solar panel near the ground. The Higher towers, the more sunlight. Though in polar region you are casting very long shadows- so have avoid towers from blocking the sunlight of other solar panels. But each square meter is getting far more energy then a square meter on Earth:
1360 times 24 hours= 32,640 times .8 = 26,112. Or about 26 kw hour in 24 hour period, and Earth at best is about 6 kwh in 24 hours period. Germany is like 2 Kw hour {or less}. So 1/4 area used.
It said area of Texas can power world. And both Lunar regions is much, much smaller then Texas, no where near total energy used by Earth, but should enough for Moon within the first 100 years.
So GEO SPS grid can give 100%. A sole location in GEO is +90% of the time. Lunar polar region not as quite as good, but good enough- if don’t need a vast amount of energy.
And if need vast amount energy, particularly not near polar regions, Moon is a good place to generate nuclear power.
And eventually, Moon can even get hydropower by importing water from Space {using the gravitational energy from having something like a lunar space elevator}.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  gbaikie
June 4, 2020 5:16 pm

Thanks for all that good analysis, gbaikie. Very interesting.

Reply to  Tom Abbott
June 5, 2020 1:37 pm

–Tom Abbott June 4, 2020 at 4:35 am
“Such as beaming electrical power to vehicle which uses a ion rocket.”

That’s one of my favorite ideas.
A Solar Power Satellite could be driving all sorts of vehicles all over the Solar System.–

One thing, this isn’t confined to use in orbit. One could use same ion or some “rocket engine” which receive some kind energy {such as heat} and use it, to leave Earth to gain orbit.
Or we lots usable sources of energy {like electrical power} on Earth.

So question is, what stopping us from doing this.
Or this not unknown.
The simple answer is not enough traffic to orbit.
It same reason of why chemical rocket are quite expensive. But there is limit to how cheap chemical rocket can get to orbit, the limit is related to cost of rocket fuel. That limit is said to be about $100 per kg of payload to orbit.
But if just talking about energy cost and energy is say, 20 cent per Kw hour {typical retail electrical power price} it’s around $1 per kg payload to orbit. But will some kind of beamed energy system you are mostly talking the total infrastructure cost involved that going to use the energy and the operational and maintenance cost of that system.
Or just like chemical rocket the fuel is not yet a significant part of price to put something into orbit,
you have the cost launch pad, mission control, and etc. But generally if you launch rockets more per year, you lower those costs per launch.
So could say, whenever chemical rocket lower to say $200 per kg to orbit, that has to mean one has enough traffic.
And so then might be close to having enough traffic, to invest in development of the system that deliver and receive the beamed power.
You might imagine by developing such system earlier, say when chemical was delivering $500 per kg to orbit, that lower cost could “drive” more demand of payload to LEO.
It’s possible, but seems unlikely.
Largely because low launch costs, isn’t major element of concern of people want payloads delivered to orbit. Satellites generally cost more than the rocket launch price. And even lowering cost of satellite itself also not driving factor. Or if everything the same- everyone wants the lower price. One could roughly say the thing is complicated and changing way anything is done, doesn’t encourage more demand- or people involve don’t want change what is already working- they tend to be quite a “conservative” customer.
Roughly, a general public generally is less “conservative”. So if talking about a time when we have sub-orbital market- the public might think the seat price from New York to London can more important. Or general public tends to be more interested in price as general matter, and of course in that in situation there is lots of potential market growth of that market.
It seems the sub-orbital travel market will start with chemical rockets, and then within short time {less than 2 decades] it could transition to other ways of doing it, but still could be retaining some component of trip, that uses some chemical rocket power.

Ian Coleman
June 3, 2020 2:26 pm

Well, quarter and Paul, soon after Apollo 11 trips to the moon just ceased, because there was no longer any point in sending people to the moon. I suppose that it has been physically possible for some years now to construct a perfect replica of Disneyland on the moon, given enough money and time, but there are no people with the money and time to do that who would rather spend the money and time doing something else.. Do you imagine that human beings have changed so much since 1974? Or that they will change so much in the next hundred years?

And please, can we cease citing the voyages of Columbus as historical precursors to space travel? Three small ships and the provisions for their crews would have been a trivial expense to the King of Spain, and sailing to America required no advances in knowledge or technology. There were things in America that could be taken back to Spain, and sold at a profit. Europeans could settle in America and live there all their lives, because there was food, water, firewood and air in America. They didn’t have to bring these things with them.

Nobody lives on the International Space Station, in the same way they live in Calgary. Nobody ever will. So forget about anyone living on the moon.

Paul Penrose
Reply to  Ian Coleman
June 4, 2020 9:38 am

“Ever” is a long time and history has shown that most proclamations of “ever” and “never” were wrong. But you are entitled to your opinion. Generally I’ve found it foolish to bet against human ingenuity and human stupidity. Funny how both seem to be in infinite supply.

Interested Observer
June 3, 2020 10:42 pm

Here’s a question for all you pipe-dreamers and pie-in-the-sky eaters: why is no one mining ice in Greenland & Antarctica? There are plenty of places on Earth that suffer from a scarcity of fresh water and it has to be a lot cheaper than going to the Moon to get it so, why aren’t there people making huge profits selling polar ice to these places?

It’s because it isn’t actually profitable. You need to be able to sell the water to someone who is willing to pay for it and pay enough that you can not only recoup your costs but also make a profit. Unfortunately, it’s cheaper to recycle water or desalinate it than mine it at the poles and ship it to where it’s needed.

Now, the costs of sending to the moon all that mining, extraction and refining equipment (plus the labor force and the habitat needed to support them) are going to be vastly more than just sending them to Earth’s polar regions. So, you are going to need to sell that water at a very high price. But, who exactly is buying it?

Right now, the only profitable commercial space ventures are satellite launches. Companies are willing to pay to build satellites and launch them into space because, other people are willing to pay for the services those satellites provide. In the future, space tourism might be the next profitable venture but, that will only last until the first rocket with a cabin full of rich people blows up. Then, interest will dry up very quickly.

Even so, all that is still taking place in low earth orbit. To go anywhere else requires a much larger investment and has much greater risk attached to it. Mining anything on the Moon would require a truly colossal investment and would have an equally colossal risk attached to it. It would just be the physical risks of getting everything there; it would also be the risk that, once you’d sunk all this money into the mining operation, no one would be willing to buy your product. You might have started your operation at a time when NASA was well-funded only to find that, when you have a product to sell, NASA has been de-funded by a different administration and isn’t buying. What do you do then? You go bankrupt, along with a lot of other people.

Some people like to hold Elon Musk up as a shining symbol of hope for the future of space exploration, like he’s willing to pay to do it out of his own pocket. He’s not. What he is doing is getting a seat on the sweet gravy train of government money by selling goods and services to government agencies, particularly NASA. Nothing new about that; all the spacecraft that have gone before have been built by private companies riding that same gravy train. The only difference is that he’s not selling the rockets to NASA, he’s renting them.

Elon is doing what all crony capitalists do. He’s playing the public risk/private profit game. He’s only going to invest his own money if he is guaranteed a profit. Riding the gravy train of government money is the lowest risk way to guarantee that profit. He’s certainly not going to invest in any scheme where the pay-off is beyond the future of any current administration, which any moon-mining operation would most likely be.

[For the record, I am not against space exploration. I’m just realistic – I know it can be done cheaper and safer by robots at this time. Dreams of human space travel are romantic but, they are not practical at this point. The voyages of Columbus and others would only be an accurate analogy if they had built a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to sail to the Americas because, that is how far away we are from the technology needed to colonize space.]

Interested Observer's Proofreader
Reply to  Interested Observer
June 3, 2020 10:54 pm

“It wouldn’t just be the physical risks…”

No matter how hard you try, mistakes always slip through. As true for writing as it is for rocket launches but with vastly different consequences.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Interested Observer
June 4, 2020 4:41 am

“Dreams of human space travel are romantic but, they are not practical at this point.”

Humans won’t remain “at this point” forever. Human space travel is getting more and more practical every day.

Interested Observer
Reply to  Tom Abbott
June 4, 2020 7:48 am

Yep, and building nuclear-powered aircraft carriers was getting more and more achievable every day Columbus was alive.

Reply to  Interested Observer
June 4, 2020 2:56 pm

–Here’s a question for all you pipe-dreamers and pie-in-the-sky eaters: why is no one mining ice in Greenland & Antarctica? There are plenty of places on Earth that suffer from a scarcity of fresh water and it has to be a lot cheaper than going to the Moon to get it so, why aren’t there people making huge profits selling polar ice to these places?–
Rocket fuel on the Moon is expensive.
Apollo basically brought rocket fuel truck with crew to the Moon, in order be able to leave the Moon.
If there is rocket fuel on moon, then you don’t need bring a rocket fuel truck with crew to the Moon, you can just bring crew to the Moon from Earth.
Rocket fuel is less expensive but still quite expensive at Low Lunar orbit. If you had rocket fuel at lunar surface and lunar low orbit, you could reuse the lunar lander {instead of throwing away after the rocket fuel is used]. Reusing lunar lander is a lot easier than reusing a first stage rocket taking-off from Earth surface- if you had rocket fuel. If had reusable lander, you can just bring crew to Low Lunar orbit {and have return to Earth spacecraft at low orbit {could have used to get crew from Earth to Low lunar orbit].
So, Apollo brought to Low lunar orbit, a service module, a command module {vehicle to return crew earth surface] and the LEM {vehicle to land the crew and another vehicle to leave lunar to return to Low Lunar orbit. With rocket fuel available, you just have bring the “command module” to low Lunar orbit.
This mean you don’t need to have the biggest rocket which has ever been made {Saturn V} and we currently building rockets as large as Saturn V {and bigger}. But also means you land stuff other than crew and have cost of shipping anything to lunar surface be a lot less, Or LEM was about 50 million dollar spacecraft in 1960 dollars, and don’t need the service module {few millions dollars}, and don’t need the Saturn V rocket- which was mostly using rocket fuel to lift rocket fuel.
Plus if have rocket fuel on lunar surface you export lunar stuff off the lunar surface.
Or if had lunar rocket fuel a 200 billion lunar base would costs 1/2 as much {or less}.Or if NASA says a lunar base would cost 200 billion it probably actually cost 500 billion, but had lunar rocket fuel, same base could cost less than 100 billion {or 1/2 the current cost of ISS].
As for Antarctica and Greenland- Trump wanted to buy Greenland. You could use the water.

–Now, the costs of sending to the moon all that mining, extraction and refining equipment (plus the labor force and the habitat needed to support them) are going to be vastly more than just sending them to Earth’s polar regions. So, you are going to need to sell that water at a very high price. But, who exactly is buying it?–
Who buying at what price? If over price, no one. A reasonable price is $500 per kg. More people would buy it at $100 per kg. And even more at $10 per kg.
The most amount money to make would be when you can sell lunar water at $10 per kg. But you probably have to get to point of being able to sell it for $10 per kg.
But more important question is who would buy lunar electrical power.
Right now the cost very high. Higher than cost to get electrical power in GEO. Anyways if one buy as much electrical power as one wants to use on the Moon, a reasonable price would be $100 per Kw hour. But if you get the cost down to be able to sell it at $10 per Kw hour, more people will buy it.
So not only trying to get price of lunar water down to $10 per kg, but also trying to get lunar power down to $10 per kW hour. And you will make a lot more money if you get it to around this price.
And by time you have sold less than 100,000 tons of water, you close to reaching this point.
How money does it cost to get to this point?
There will a lot parties involved. But let’s focus on company trying to drive electrical cost to $10 per Kw hour. Let’s assume total dollar spent is $50 billion, and return is 10 billion, or you 40 billion dollar in red.
How much is this company worth if it’s close to selling electrical power at $10 per hour on the Moon, and currently selling 5 billion dollar per year of electrical power, but have making and selling 50% more power per year, though electrical prices are lowering. But also more investing all kind of things related to this. Add to that there making Mars town of 1000 people. Company probably worth more than 100 billion. Or small fraction of Amazon gross value.
If doing this, there would companies involved with trying to make GEO satellites from the lunar surface- so planning doing at larger scale in 5 to 10 year horizon.
Or if lunar electrical dropped from $100 to say $40 and within decade it could less than $10 per kw h and within decades it might be $1 per kw h. The Stock Market is always looking a near future and further into the future. And every company on the Moon would be regarded {correctly] as a growth company, which all about making cheaper stuff to capture more market.
And lunar electrical power some point in the future could be cheaper than electrical power on Earth. But before it reaches this point it’s a mature market, like Ford or GE, though most capital is in small companies which are growth companies.
Who exactly is looking thousands of the businesses and saying who exactly.
Can say lunar electrical power companies will an important sector to watch.

Anyways, none of this can happen without exploring the Moon.
Moon has not been explored, yet. Not even likely it will be explored within 5 years.
And NASA may not be the party that does this exploration.
Musk and/or Bezos may grow impatience. Or others might want steal the show.
I wouldn’t bet on China doing anything important- including all it’s billionaires.

Ian Coleman
June 4, 2020 6:09 am

No, Tom, humans won’t remain at this point forever. However, the moon will be a big round dead rock in the sky forever, and no profit can be realized from sending people to it.

Elon Musk is an outlier because he’s a billionaire, which means that he is free of all normative financial constraints. If Tesla or SpaceX go into bankruptcy, he won’t suffer any harms other than embarrassment and a sense of failure. He’s still going to be able to buy anything he wants for the rest of his life.

Tesla has always been, and remains, wildly uneconomical. Musk’s claim that he can manufacture and sell an electric car for $35,000 and make a profit is so improbable that it may be a deliberate lie.

Reply to  Ian Coleman
June 4, 2020 3:40 pm

Sole monetary profit not needed, a combination of other motives could get someone there.

If I had the money and the ability, I would sneak up there and paint (big enuf to see with a telescope) “Trump 2020”

If I had 60 billion, it would be worth half that to see how the cnn ‘s & the anti’s would react. (bet Trump’s response would be reasonably interesting as well).

Reply to  Ian Coleman
June 5, 2020 12:16 am

–No, Tom, humans won’t remain at this point forever. However, the moon will be a big round dead rock in the sky forever, and no profit can be realized from sending people to it.–

You send people to Mars, not the Moon.
The Lunatics will wait for their L-5 colony to be built.
If there is cheap water, on Mars, you go to Mars.
Most lunar workers will live on Earth.
Some people will go to the Moon and it be more like going to ISS, and tourists could go for weeks and other people with more of a work schedule, for months.
So say, personnel who are working at lunar hotel would stay longer.

“Elon Musk is an outlier because he’s a billionaire, which means that he is free of all normative financial constraints.”
Don’t forget Bezos. Though Musk seems more in hurry to build his Starship.
And Bezos apparently, likes to operate stealthy.

Ian Coleman
June 4, 2020 4:00 pm

Hello DonM. If I had 60 billion dollars, I’d give 59 billion of it to God to forgive my sins. Of course, I’d get Him to sign a contract. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. It’s a wonder that nobody has sued Him.

Interested Observer
Reply to  Ian Coleman
June 5, 2020 1:32 am

I thought only the devil made contracts.

“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” That’s a fancy way of saying the Lord can’t be trusted.

You only have to read the book of Job to know the Lord would happily screw you over to win a bet with the devil. When it comes to your reward, you’ll just have to take His word for it… Nudge, nudge, nod and a wink. Say no more. Know what I mean.

June 6, 2020 4:28 am

Australia, mostly large empty continent with large extremes of weather and climate, most of it good only for strip mining, radioactive waste disposal and keeping the coastlines part. There are much more pleasant places on Earth to live yet 25 million of us make our lives here.
The future Lunies will do the same on the Moon. See the Poul Anderson story collection “Space Folk”.

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