While the world waits anxiously for the rollout of President Donald Trump’s space policy, a recent article in Motherboard provides a window into what the new administration may be thinking about in that area. Using documents obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, the Internet magazine has discovered that the Trump transition team is keen to develop a #lunar mining industry. The administration is also interested in commercializing the technology that the space agency is developing to complete its mission as a way to boost the American economy, spur economic growth, and create jobs.
Mining the moon (as well as the asteroids) seems to be all the rage. The moon and Earth-approaching asteroids contain trillions of dollars worth of useful materials, from water ice to #Platinum Group Metals.
No staider an institution as Goldman Sachs has concluded that space mining is a potentially viable business, no longer in the realm of science fiction.
Lunar and asteroid mining will enable the construction of assets in space without having to ship materials from Earth. Water from the lunar poles can be refined into rocket fuel, making the moon into a refueling depot for spacecraft headed into deep space. Platinum group metals might be valuable enough to bring back to Earth, depending on how low transportation costs go. Some fear that the sudden influx of such a rare material could collapse commodity prices, depending on how large the market expands for cheap platinum.
The economics of transferring space technology to the private sector has been well known for decades. NASA regularly issues reports on what it calls “spin-offs” detailing how its mission tends to benefit industry. A study conducted in the 1970s by Chase Econometrics claimed that for every dollar spent on the Apollo program, seven dollars were eventually returned to the commercial sector, in effect suggesting that the moon program largely paid for itself.
The findings have been disputed by experts who wonder if the money could have been more efficiently deployed to the private sector directly. But it suggests that a national space program does not need to be a drain on the public purse even if it is pursued for scientific and political reasons.
The #trump administration may be interested in streamlining the spinoff process, to transfer technology from NASA to the private sector quicker and more efficiently. With more commercial partnerships being entered into by the space agency, technology transfers will take on a greater importance in the American economy going forward.