A team of UNSW engineers is putting up a case for the commercial viability of mining water from the moon in an effort to attract global mining companies to invest in future space mining ventures.
The group unveiled an ambitious plan at the SIAA Space Industry Forum to prove that extracting lunar water from the moon to produce rocket fuel could significantly cut down on the cost of carrying out space missions, making it viable for mining companies to ‘put some dollars towards making it a reality’.
Professor Andrew Dempster, Director of the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research at UNSW said their principal goal was to reduce the perceived risk to potential investors, including large mining companies, in a space mining venture by showing that it is possible to create the machinery, mining methods, energy resources and communications required to do it.
He said that his team was likely five to 10 years away from piloting a water mining “proof of concept” operation on the moon.
“Once we prove that the technology exists and major risks can be mitigated, I expect that mining companies will see the commercial potential for this sort of venture and put some dollars towards making it a reality,” the Professor said, adding that Australia is uniquely placed ‘to carve itself a niche in the global space industry’ by exploiting its position of strength in mining expertise.
“Australia has a natural advantage for off-Earth mining – we have some of the very best mining research, technology and automation tools in the world, and the largest mining companies,” Mr Dempster continued.
“While overseas teams have been looking at solving some of the problems behind space mining, our project wants to examine how we could actually get this done, firstly from a practical engineering point of view, but also closing a viable business case.”
UNSW Dean of Engineering Mark Hoffman added:
“Australia needs to invest in disruptive, innovative technologies to tackle some of our planet’s big challenges and to create new and exciting opportunities for economic growth.
“Projects such as this one will help deepen Australia’s expertise in off-Earth mining and facilitate the growth of the space industry in Australia.”