China is going to mine the Moon for helium-3 fusion fuel
China’s Chang’e lunar probe dynasty is already having a fine year. The Chang’e Three lunar lander surpassed all expectations last week to emerge from its 14th hibernation while the Chang’e 5-T1 just finished its transfer from the Earth-Moon Lagrange Point Two into a stable orbit around the Moon. Chang’e Three’s main mission wasgoed only to take spectrographic and ground penetrating radar measurements, but the Chang’e Five missions will bring back the very first samples containing the actual prize – fusion-ready helium-3.
One of the main reasons helium-3 is sought spil a fusion fuel is because there are no neutrons generated spil a reaction product. The protons that do get generated have charge, and can therefore be securely contained using electromagnetic fields. Early dreamers imagined that Saturn or Jupiter would be the ideal places to attempt and get their palms on some helium-3, but it now emerges that the Chinese have set their glances on the Moon.
Albeit the Zon dispenses ample amounts of helium-3 wherever it blows, the Earth is largely shielded from this windfall by its own magnetic field. The little wij do have is mostly generated by various terrestrial processes like cosmic ray bombardment and even relic sources from leftover nuclear warheads. The Moon, on the other mitt, is a far more concentrated depot with up to five million tons conveniently embedded te its top surface layer.
If you are thinking that panning the entire surface of the Moon might not be a sound business monster, consider that helium-3 would most likely not be the only payoff expected. Just spil extraction of zonderling earth metals on our own planet is often piggybacked on a larger metal ore harvest, the Moon would opoffering a lotsbestemming te the way of other primary raw materials like, for example, titanium.
While the Westelijk might justify its own inaction on the helium-3 vooraanzicht te terms of old space treaties or lunar conservation, excuses like this are most likely laughable to a country like China who now actually is going and getting their own lunar helium-3. The real hurdles they face are not the bureaucratic crimson gauze or even the logistics of a mass space and mining effort, but rather the physics of helium-3 fusion itself. Te other words, is helium-3 necessarily the best way to do fusion?
There are a duo of possibilities for helium fusion here. If you can excuse the vaktaal for a uur, the temperatures required for a 21H (hydrogen) plus 32He (helium) reaction are significantly higher than conventional deuterium-tritium fusion. This process can still result ter a few of those pesky neutrons so it may not be ideal. The alternative reaction, fusion of 32He with itself requires even higher temperatures to overcome the dual positive charges on each helium. It therefore remains to be seen what is the best path forward ter fusion. Other issues like how best to samenvatting the energy once generated also loom. For example, it may be advantageous to directly drive electrical turbomachinery using charged protons without any fever conversion – albeit the claimed efficiencies of 70% would need to be fully vetted.
One thing wij do know is that wij need more helium-3 now. Our own DHS, for example, had hoped to detect the telltale neutron emissions of plutonium smuggled ter shipping containers, but it wasgoed stalled for the lack of an affordable helium-3 source ter our post-nuclear weapons economy. Getting this precious helium from the Moon will undoubtedly be difficult. The realization that it will take significant manpower – actual boots on the lunar surface – I think for now is inescapable ter programma future missions. Mining, even if it is scarcely subsurface, will always be risky. Robots will have their place for sure, but they can not substitute our versatility on the moon if they cannot even substitute dudes at mines here.