NEEP602 Course Notes (Fall 1996)
Resources from Space

Mine Planning and Mining Concepts for Lunar Resources

Lecture 19

Professors G. L. Kulcinski and H. H. Schmitt

March 4, 1996

An attempt to formulate an overview of "Space Resource Utilization Research" is shown in . The right hand side of the schematic lists the important events or personalities that have impacted the field. On the left hand side (LHS), we list the major reports, conferences, or meetings that have chronicled the progress in the field. The references for are given at the end of this synopsis. Also see Lohman 1985 for history of lunar base design up to the middle of the 1980's.

The use of resources from space probably got its first serious boost from an article by Werner von Braun in 1953. In 1957 the Soviet Union's Sputnik literally launched the world, and particularly the United States, into a new era. Very shortly thereafter, the U. S. Army issued a report on a Lunar military base. President Kennedy issued his famous challenge in 1961 to go to the Moon and the race was on! In the rest of the 1960's work began on solar powered satellites and the Bureau of Mines began a serious effort at categorizing terrestrial mining equipment that could be used on the Moon's surface. Shortly after the Apollo landings in the period 1969-72, K. Ehricke (1972) and Gerard O'Neill (1975) published stimulating reports about the importance of resources in space.

The period from 1975 to 1985 was filled with considerable research on the Apollo and Luna samples, telling us what might lie in store for those first explorers in space. It was during this time (approximately 1980) that the Europeans, particularly the group headed by Professor Koelle at Berlin University, began to seriously consider the resource implications of the Moon in particular. Shortly thereafter (approximately 1982) , the Japanese began studies of utilizing lunar resources.

In 1986, scientists at the University of Wisconsin (Wittenberg, Santarius, and Kulcinski, 1986) first suggested the use of lunar 3He for use in clean and safe fusion power plants. That "rediscovery" of data from the Apollo program set in motion a large body of research both in the U. S. and abroad, on the utilization of this valuable resource. More details on the energy potential of this work will be given in later lectures (see Lecture 25 & 26).

President Bush initiated the Space Exploration Initiative (SEI) in 1989. One of the goals of that program was "to go back to the Moon, this time to stay." Unfortunately, the SEI program never got "off the ground" before changes in Administration and budget difficulties caused the program to be canceled 4 short years later.

With respect to the key literature in the area of space resources, it should be noted that the first major governmental study of extraterrestrial resources was published in 1963. A second report came out in 1968 and the first detailed industrial study was done by North American Rockwell in 1971. The extensive scientific work on Apollo samples, during the period from 1970-85, was reported in the proceedings of the annual Lunar Science Conferences. However, in 1984, the resource utilization field was large enough to hold a series of specialized conferences, some of which survive even today. The First and Second Conferences on Lunar Bases were particularly rich in presenting the state of the art in the mid to late 1980's. In 1984, a Space Resources Summer Study was held, the proceedings from which were published by NASA in 1992 (Space Resources, 1992). In 1988 a series of conferences on space resources were initiated, to be held a 2 year intervals. Thus far the Space-88,-90, 92, and 94 proceedings are in print and the Space 96 will be held this summer in Albuquerque. Finally, 2 international conferences specifically devoted to 3He were held at the University of Wisconsin (1990 and 1993). In reviewing the aforementioned work, one will get the feeling that there is an active, but poorly coordinated and funded core of scientists and engineers devoted to making space resources a key element in the future of future generations.

In 1986, the United States began a series of intense, high level reviews of future space policy. Reports were published in 1986, 87, 88, 89, 90, and 91.

These reports were done by distinguished scientists and presented in a manner that the general public could feel the excitement.

A quote from the 1991, America at the Threshold report reflects the interest that each of the previous 5 had in the use of extraterrestrial resources, particularly 3He.

The NASA Administrator, Dan Goldin, also endorsed the use of 3He.


The Japanese recently showed their interest in recovering lunar 3He.

Both the Europeans and the Japanese have ambitious plans to settle the Moon and the Japanese have even put on a timetable, the recovery of 3He.

It is harder to tell what the Russian plans for lunar settlement are but history shows us that the former Soviet Union "shot" at the Moon 60 times in the 18 year period between 1958 and 1976. However, only 19 of those missions were successful. Clearly they (the Russians) have had an interest in the Moon and we would expect that they would also be interested in the advanced fuels for the fusion program.

While there has been considerable interest in the advanced fuels on a strategic level, there have been few comprehensive studies on mining equipment specifically designed to procure these, or other resources.

One example of the kind of equipment designed specifically to recover lunar volatiles is the Mark-I

and Mark-II miners

designed by the scientists and engineers at the University of Wisconsin.

Some major design parameters for the Mark-II.

After the mixture of SWV's is evolved from the regolith, the various components are separated by cooling the mixture during the lunar night. The cooling relies on the fact that "space" has a temperature of ~ 4oK, and all of the compounds or elements except He liquefy by that temperature.

For every tonne of 3He produced, there are ~ 18,000 tonnes of valuable by-products produced.

It is interesting to note that these by-products can support the annual N2, CO2, or water needs of thousands of lunar settlers.

One might ask "What is the energy payback ratio for the procurement of space resources, in particular, 3He?". The energy requirements for obtaining 3He are mainly associated with the transportation of mining equipment, personnel, habitats and base camp equipment.

The mass of people and material needed to mine 3He is given in (Kulcinski, 1989)

The energy invested in establishing a mining camp for 3He is given here. The total comes to somewhat less than 2,000 GJ/kg of 3He.

When a kg of 3He is burned with deuterium, approximately 600,000 GJ of energy is released. Therefore, the energy payback to procure and use 3He is ~ 300 to 1. This is much greater than the 16 to 1 ratio for coal or the 20 to 1 ratio for nuclear fission reactors.


"America at the Threshold, Report of the Synthesis Group on America's Space Exploration Initiative", 1991.

Ehricke, K. A., 1972, "Lunar Industries and Their Value for Human Development on Earth", Acta Astronaut., 1, p. 585.

First Wisconsin Symposium on D-3He Fusion, August 21-22, 1990, Madison, WI, University of Wisconsin Fusion Technology Institute Report UWFDM-843.

Kulcinski, G. L., Sviatoslavsky, I. N., Santarius, J. F., Wittenberg, L.J., Cameron, E. N., Crabb, T. N., and Jacobs, M. K., 1989, "Energy requirements for Helium-3 Mining Operations on the Moon", Space Nuclear Power Systems 1988, Orbit Books, p. 77.

Lunar Bases and Space Activities of the 21st Century, Edited by W. W. Mendell, Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston (1985).NASA-sponsored public symposium hosted by the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC, Oct. 29-31, 1984,

"NASA - Leadership and America's Future in Space", A Report to the Administrator by Dr. Sally K. Ride, August 1987.

"NASA - Beyond Earth's Boundaries, Human Exploration of the Solar System in the 21st Century", Annual Report to the Administrator, 1988.

North American Rockwell, 1971, "Lunar Base Synthesis Study", North American Rockwell Report, SC-71-477

Oberg, J. E., 1984, "Soviet Lunar Exploration: Past and Future", p. 725 in Lunar Bases and Space Activities of the 21st Century, Edited by W. W. Mendell, Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston (1985).NASA-sponsored public symposium hosted by the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC, Oct. 29-31, 1984,

O'Handly, D. A., 1996, NASA Ames, unpublished data.

O'Neill, G. K., 1975, "Space Colonies and Energy to Supply the Earth", Science, 190, p.943

"Pioneering the Space Frontier", The Report of the National Commission on Space, Bantam Books, 1986.

Proc. of Space 88, Albuquerque, NM, Aug. 29-31, 1988, Engineering, Construction, and Operations in Space, Edited by Stewart W. Johnson and John P. Wetzel (1988).

Proc. of Space 90, Albuquerque, NM, 1990, Engineering, Construction, and Operations in Space, Edited by Stewart W. Johnson and John P. Wetzel (1990).

Proc. of Space 92, Denver, CO, May 31-June 4, 1992, Engineering, Construction, and Operations in Space III, Edited by Willy Z. Sadeh, Stein Sture, and Russell J. Miller (1992).

Proc. of Space 94, Albuquerque, NM, Feb. 26-Mar. 3, 1994, Engineering, Construction, and Operations in Space IV, Edited by Rodney G. Galloway and Stanley Lokaj (1994).

"Report of the Advisory Committee on the Future of the U.S. Space Program", December 1990.

"Report of the 90-Day Study on Human Exploration of the Moon and Mars", Internal NASA Report, November 1989.

Second Wisconsin Symposium on Helium-3 and Fusion Power; Proceedings of a Symposium held in Madison, WI, 19-21 July 1993, Univ. of Wisconsin Report WCSAR-TR-AR3-9307-3.

"Space Resources", 1992, eds., M. F. McKay, D. S. McKay and M. B. Duke, NASA-SP-509

The Second Conference on Lunar Bases and Space Activities of the 21st Century, Edited by W. W. Mendell, NASA Conf. Pub. 3166, (1992).NASA conference sponsored by Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center and the Lunar Planetary Institute, Houston, TX, April 5-7, 1988,

von Braun, W., Whipple, F. L., and Ley, W., 1953, Conquest of the Moon, Viking, N. Y.,

Wittenberg, L. J., Santarius, J. F., and Kulcinski, G. L., 1986, "Lunar Source of 3He for Commercial Fusion Power", Fusion Technology, 10, p. 167.

Representative Questions

1.) What are the energy payback ratios for "mining" oil and natural gas? (Compared to the payback ratio of 300 for 3He)

2.) What is the current Russian position on "Resources from Space"?

3.) What was the most valuable resource from space (or on the Moon) before 1986?

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