Image credit: NASA

A coordinated international lunar resource evaluation campaign could form the foundation of a cislunar economy and a sustained/permanent human presence on the Moon.

A new research paper led by Clive Neal at the University of Notre Dame’s Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering & Earth Sciences, spells out how to address issues related to prospecting on the Moon, including why it needs to be international in nature and how to start and evolve this global coordination.

Image credit: PAVER consortium/LIQUIFER Systems Group

Critical distinction

For one, there is a critical distinction required around the terms “resources” and “reserves,” to appreciate the full scientific, exploration, and commercial potential of lunar resources.

The United States Geological Survey defines these as:

Resource: a concentration of naturally occurring solid, liquid, or gaseous materials in or on the crust in such form that economic extraction of a commodity is regarded as feasible.

Reserve: That portion of an identified resource from which a usable mineral or energy commodity can be economically and legally extracted at the time of determination.

Newly developed extraction technique for the Moon, thermal mining, makes use of mirrors to exploit sun-shy, water ice-laden polar craters.
Credit: School of Mines/Dreyer, Williams, Sowers

Validating cost

Take for example the issue of available water ice thought to be sequestered in sun-shy craters. Such a product could be processed to produce water to sustain crews, even turned into rocket fuel.

“Until we know the details of the lunar water ice derived from polar volatile deposits in permanently shadowed regions (PSRs), this question cannot be addressed, and neither can the assumptions and costs associated with lunar resources (extraction, refinement, storage, and transportation of products) be validated,” the paper suggests.

Lunar resources have the potential “to enable sustainable human space exploration, develop a vibrant cislunar economy, and directly benefit society here on Earth,” the paper notes. “However, recent rhetoric about the importance and value of these resources has used the term as if we know they are reserves.”

Image credit: Clive Neal, et al.

Immediate next step

Pinning down best sites on the Moon for evaluation and possible prospecting won’t be easy – lots of territory to survey.  Therefore, no one space agency will have the budget or mandate to conduct such survey work alone, the paper points out.

But if it is international in nature, “it provides a great opportunity to test and refine the applicable legal framework while being intentional in setting precedents that positively shape the conduct of lunar (and space) resource activities,” the paper adds, in accordance with the United Nations Outer Space Treaty.

Image credit: Clive Neal, et al.

An immediate next step could begin with a collective commitment of nations to achieving a permanent human presence on the Moon, once the reserve potential of lunar resources has been better quantified.

“However, if we cannot make the Moon sustainable, we definitely will not do that at Mars. The Moon, therefore, becomes a blueprint for sustainability in human space exploration, and an enabling asset to allow humanity to move out into the Solar System while at the same time improving society here on Earth,” concludes the paper.

The paper – “The moon needs an international lunar resource prospecting campaign” – appears in Acta Astronautica, the official journal of the International Academy of Astronautics.

To access the work, go to:

The strategic value of having an off-Earth destination in our own back yard represents an opportunity to expand humanity into the Solar System while benefitting society on Earth (indicated by the arrow to and from the Moon) through creating a new sector of our economy in cislunar space.Image credit: Clive Neal, et al.



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