NASA Looks for Companies to Help Mine Lunar Rare Earths

There are three main materials on the moon: water, helium, and rare earths. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced that it will collect resources such as rocks and dirt from the moon from private companies.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced on September 10 that the collection of materials on the moon will become part of the agency’s science and technology development project, which aims to help astronauts to lay the foundation for future exploration of the moon or to Mars and other space fields.

In an article published by NASA, Bradenstein stated that the Administration is planning to purchase lunar soil from a commercial company, "space resources are the key to the safe and sustainable development of the moon," and the announcement is yet another step in Artemis project to set up a permanent presence on and around the moon and eventually go to Mars, where astronauts would need to be able to use the resources there.

mine the rare earths on the moon image

According to the "Artemis" plan for returning to the moon announced by the Administration in May 2019, the United States will allow the first female astronaut to land on the moon before 2024. Bradenstein also wrote: Based on the knowledge we have learned from the moon we will begin the next larger plan-sending astronauts to Mars.

Before the United States announced its plan to return to the moon, China successfully launched the "Chang'e-4" probe to land on the back of the moon in January 2019. In addition, China plans to launch the "Chang'e-5" probe in October this year to collect lunar samples and return to Earth. According to the geological survey of the moon, there are three main materials on the moon: water, helium, and rare earths.

Helium is the key to clean and efficient nuclear energy in the future, and rare earth, as an essential material for high-tech products, currently supplies 90% of the world’s supply from China.

The Administrator hopes that commercial companies will produce a report on the feasibility of exploiting lunar resources. He said: "When we consider these feasibility reports, we will require all actions to be transparent, compliant and legal, and abide by our international commitments," with the goal of benefiting all mankind.

NASA would pay exclusively for the regolith, and not cover the enormous expense of getting to the lunar surface, meaning that companies involved in the program would likely already be pursuing other activities there. The Administration already has another program to hire companies to fly science experiments and cargo to the moon ahead of a human landing.

That includes Astrobotic, SpaceX, Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada Corp, Lockheed Martin and others. Bridenstine said he expects many of them to be interested in pursuing the mining contracts as well.

In addition, to explore the rare earths mine in the moon, NASA's cooperative companies include Astrobotic, a company specializing in space robots, electronics company Seirra Nevada Corporation, and munitions company Lockheed Martin.