NASA announced on Thursday that it was planning to purchase lunar soil from a commercial company, a top agency official said, adding that it aimed to set an example for the transfer of ownership of supernatural material and from bodies throughout the solar system To encourage harvesting resources in the market.
The initiative is starting small, but NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstein said Thursday that it could help companies be able to mine lunar soil for water ice, precious metals and other resources.
“We are interested in purchasing some lunar soil commercially,” Bridenstein said in a virtual presentation on Thursday at the Secure World Foundation’s Space Sustainability Summit. “So we want a commercial company to go to the moon, extract some lunar soil, and then … NASA can capture it.”
“We’re buying the regolith, but we’re really doing it to demonstrate that it can be done, that the resources extracted from the moon are actually owned by those who invest their sweat, and their Treasury, and their equity. Effort, ”said Bridenstein.
Bridenstein said the effort to buy lunar soil from a commercial company has its roots in legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in 2015. The law allows private entities to extract, exploit and exploit water, minerals and other materials extracted from the Moon.
While Bridenstein said NASA aims to promote a commercial market for moon mining with the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, an international agreement has been ratified by 110 countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, China and Russia.
The Outer Space Treaty states: “Outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation through claim, use or possession of sovereignty, or by any other means.”
Bridenstein said that NASA believes in the outer space treaty, but NASA wants to “enable the normalization process” to show that supernatural resources can be mined and owned.
“We believe … that we cannot appropriate the moon for national sovereignty,” he said. “And that’s not exactly what we intend to do.
“But we believe that we can extract and use resources from the moon, just as we can and use tuna from the ocean,” Bridenstein said. “We do not own the sea. But if you apply your hard work, and labor, and your investment to extract tuna from the sea, you can own tuna from the sea, and it becomes a very valuable resource for humanity. ”
“And so the question is, is it possible for national sovereignty to have property rights to the extracted resources without appointing the moon or other astronomical bodies?” And I believe the answer is yes.
Through the Artemis program, NASA plans to land astronauts on the moon for the first time since 1972. The Trump administration last year instructed NASA to land a crew near the South Pole of the Moon before the end of 2024, four years prior to NASA’s previous program. Returns astronauts to the lunar surface.
NASA wants the Artemis program to lead to a more permanent human presence on the moon than the Apollo program, which ended in the 1970s. To finalize the Artemis program, NASA says that instead of bringing all the necessary materials from the crew or robots to Earth, resources such as ice from water will eventually need to be extracted and used.
“How do we create a sustainable program? We need to use water ice, millions of tons of water ice on the moon, ”said Bridenstein. “It’s air to breathe, it’s water to drink,” and can also be converted into rocket fuel, he said.
“So all of this is available in the hundreds of millions of tons at the South Pole of the Moon, we need to be able to use it as a resource,” he said.
Along with helium-3, precious metals can also be mined from the moon, which can be used as an energy source.
Bridenstein considered the issue of extraterrestrial mining to be non-partisan, but the exploitation of the resources of other planetary bodies is a concern.
Emily Lakdawala of the Planetary Society tweeted, “Clearly stating that we are pressuring resource extraction without a plan to separate the future from the past on Earth into space, to replicate the embarrassing, environmentally destructive history Is a recipe for. ”
Clive Neal, a lunar scientist at the University of Notre Dame, expressed support for the new NASA lunar soil initiative. But he tweeted that for many construction projects in the United States, environmental impact statements should be a preliminary step for proposals to extract and use lunar resources.
“Phil Metzger, a scientist on the Earth of Metropolium, tweeted,” There is no risk of companies ruining the Moon near the year 2100 and ruining it, as there are no valuable resources on the Moon. “Central Florida whose research expertise involves sampling planetary soil.” You can find everything on Earth a million times cheaper.
“Second, we don’t have the technology to mine the moon on a large scale,” Metager said. “Technological development * alone * will take 30 to 40 years to make a large-scale lunar mining venture financially viable. The key will be to reduce the need for humans to repair broken robots.”
President Trump signed an executive order in April under a policy that the United States does not see the location as a “global commons”. The order re-enforced the 2015 law signed by President Obama, which empowered US citizens and companies to mine and exploit resources cut from other bodies in space.
This policy is in accordance with the 1979 Moon Treaty, which states that the Moon and its natural resources are “the common heritage of mankind”. The Moon Treaty states that an international framework is needed to control the exploitation of lunar resources “when such exploitation becomes possible.”
But only 18 nations are parties to the 1979 lunar treaty, which have not been signed or ratified by the United States, China, or Russia.
Bridenstein said Friday that NASA wants to ensure that “international law has a strong legal framework” that allows individuals and companies to pursue personal interests on the moon.
“What we are trying to do is ensure that there is a criterion of behavior that resources can be extracted from, and that we are doing it in a way that is compliant with Outer Space Treaty,” said Bridenstein. “And we’re doing it in a way so that people don’t interfere with your effort to extract those resources.”
Earlier this year, NASA outlined the Artemis Accords, the principles the agency’s international partners would expect to follow in lunar exploration. Theories include peaceful exploration of the Moon, transparency, interoperability, oath of emergency assistance, registration of space objects and public release of scientific data.
“These standards of behavior … ultimately become binding for international law,” Bridenstein said. He said, “This is a path that needs to be blown up, and I think the United States needs to lead here, and then those norms of behavior should ultimately inform international law that will ensure that Space is long term. ”
Some scientists have raised questions about how NASA will implement planetary safety guidelines in the mining era and perform other loosely-regulated commercial activity in space. Planetary protection focuses on stopping spacecraft, and ultimately humans, from interfering with areas that may disturb supernatural life. Directions on a world like Mars are more stringent than the Moon.
In July, NASA announced that it was phasing out planet safety requirements for missions that land at most locations on the lunar surface. The areas around the poles, which nourish water ice, and the historic Apollo landing site will remain under the higher category of planetary security.
Breidenstein said on Thursday that although NASA is not a regulatory agency, it could set expectations for private companies.
If you go to the moon, you want to be with us, if you want to be a private company, which NASA can have as a customer, if you want to be with us on Mars, There are certain behaviors you have to follow, ”said Bridenstein.
The request for proposals released by NASA on Thursday is open to US and international companies. According to the agency’s spokesperson, Stephanie Schierholz, the proposals are due on October 9 and NASA may award one or more awards.
The award-winning companies will collect lunar soil or rocks from any location on the moon, and provide imagery with NASA and collected material of the collection, as well as identifying data on where the material was captured. The companies would later transfer ownership of the samples to NASA from place to place on the moon.
On Thursday, NASA estimated to pay between $ 15,000 to $ 25,000 for $ 50 to 500 grams of lunar soil, Bridenstein said. Final prices will be determined by the results of the competition, according to Skirholz.
If a company collects more than 500 grams, they can sell to the rest of the countries, companies or private individuals, Bridenstein said. And there may be further contests for companies to collect lunar soil and sell it to NASA.
In 2018, NASA instituted a commercial lunar payload service program to set up a series of competitions for companies to bid contracts to pierce scientific instruments to the moon. NASA selected 14 US companies to be eligible for the CLPS contract award, and the agency has awarded four robotic lunar lander missions to date.
First CLPS mission in development by astrotic and spontaneous machines for launch on the moon in 2021 -.
Eligibility for the lunar soil challenge announced on Thursday will not be limited to CLPS providers. Other American companies and international groups will be able to bid, said Bridenstein.
“What we are trying to do is to establish behavioral norms to create regulatory certainty so that outside companies can capitalize on these programs and move forward,” Bridenstein said. “We are trying to prove the concept that resources can be extracted and traded, and traded not only between companies or individuals, but also between countries and borders.
“I’d say the starting point is water ice,” he said. “This is where a lot of private companies want to go and get that water ice, and then sell it to us as an agency or other private companies, as a destination for all kinds of different capabilities I am using the moon. ”
Email the author
Follow Stephen Clarke on Twitter: @ StephenClark1.