Is the Moon a fuel's paradise? China seems to think so, and one of the main objectives of the country's first lunar landing mission scheduled for 2017 will be an assessment of the moon's stockpile of Helium-3.
Helium-3 may sound like a great name for a band but to those in the energy business it's much, much more: this rare isotope of the lighter-than-air gas is thought to be the fuel of the future.
That is, if said future depends on nuclear fusion for its source of electric power as many pundits are predicting. Trouble is, Helium-3 is extremely rare on Earth. Things are looking up, however... WAY up, to the Moon.
The natural abundance of Helium-3 on the Moon is thought to be much greater than on Earth, though estimates are that approximately 100 million tons of lunar regolith would have to be mined in order to extract just 1 ton of Helium-3. And you thought strip mining was messy!
Should China someday achieve the stated goal of Chinese scientist Ouyang Ziyuan (head of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program, left) to “bring enough fuel for all human beings across the world,” it will require that 4 million tons of lunar regolith be mined and at least one full space shuttle load of Helium-3 be shipped back to earth every week.
A daunting challenge, but of the world's space-faring nations only China appears willing to attempt it.
“China will make a manned moon landing at a proper time, around 2017,” stated Ouyang, quoted by the Southern Metropolis News. The mission will employ the Chang'e-3 spacecraft, which will feature a robotic moon rover carried to the lunar surface by an unmanned lunar lander.
Ouyang gave a broad hint at one of the mission's main objectives as well, saying “We will provide the most reliable report on helium-3 to mankind.”
China may well succeed in its aim to provide humankind with all the Helium-3 it needs, though if it ends up controlling the supply then we may expect it to also dictate the price. Since Helium-3 is, according to some researchers, “a perfect, non-polluting fuel source” and scientists think there's enough Helium-3 on the moon to power the world for thousands of years, I suggest you open up a Yuan savings account pronto. (via SmartPlanet, China View, and Next Big Future)