Research team creates map to help target resources on the moon

June 4, 2020

Inspired by on earth exploration methods for mineral deposits a team or researchers at the University of Central Florida have created a model that they hope will help find deposits of ice on the surface of the moon.

Deep space exploration will require off earth resources like water and ice that can be turned into fuel for space missions. These resources will have to be mined and a team lead by planetary scientist Kevin Cannon has created an Ice Favorability Index. Phsy.org reported that 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. 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.

In order for humans to explore the solar system and beyond, spacecraft have to be able to launch and continue on their long mission. Mining the moon could result in creating a fuel source, 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."

 

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