The Texas-based company Shackleton Energy has a new target: the Moon. The firm is planning to mine water and other minerals from Earth’s satellite by 2020.
According to the site Kvue, the company has been preparing this mission for over 20 years. And since Shackleton Energy is not in the drinking water business, their main goal is to find ice, turn it into water and then convert it into fuel.
This could be an excellent approach to help spare places like Texas, where droughts are recurrent and water is precious. Talking about the mission, Shackleton’s chairman, Bill Stone, said that:
It could be said that the moon is even more in a drought than Texas. The equatorial reqions are essentially dry deserts. But above 65 degrees north or south latitude there is about one liter of water per cubic meter of regolith [the lunar surface material], and that’s plenty for human survival.
If the company expectations become true, the mission will be able to locate significant reserves of ice. After that, Shackleton Energy plans to establish – and here comes one of the most ambitious parts of the project – a network of “refueling service stations” in low Earth orbit.
As stated by the company, there’s a reduced cost in doing the work in space: a lunar execution would only require 1/14 to 1/20 of the fuel it takes to bring material up from Earth, in comparison. And then there’s the fact that the team involved in the mission has some very experienced professionals like the company’s CEO, Dale Tietz, who was involved with a NASA project that looked at the possibility of extracting water from the Moon in 1994.
The possibility of water ice deposits at the bottom of very cold lunar polar craters was confirmed via the Pentagon’s Clementine spacecraft mission in 1994. I realized from their data that it would be possible to harvest ice from those craters and dramatically change the way operations in space are undertaken.
Currently, Shackleton Energy has over a hundred people working on this project, but the company is already looking at other possibilities, such as Mars.
But going back to the Moon, if water is found on Earth’s satellite, Shackleton Energy will electrolyze it into gaseous hydrogen and oxygen, condense the gases into liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, process them into hydrogen peroxide and use the byproducts as rocket fuels. According to Bill Stone:
We are in the propellant refueling business. Water, in the form of ice from those cold lunar polar craters, can be cracked to produce LOX (liquid oxygen) and LH2 (liquid hydrogen) to form what is currently the best chemical rocket propellant in the space business. Having that available at an orbiting gas station will change the way industry and governments design their spacecraft.
Our primary market and customers will be in low Earth orbit, generally in the vicinity of the present International Space Station and other industrial facilities that will eventually be built in that neighborhood.
The project will have four phases, the final ones being the assembly of a lunar polar base and the introduction of the human element in the equation. The final piece of the mission is finding what the company calls “industrial astronaut corps”.