Back to Moon. What will U.S. look for on Earth’s satellite and will Ukraine help?

Author : Anna Peshkova

Source : 112 Ukraine

First man set foot on the moon more than half a century ago. After the Apollo program closed, this move was never repeated. Now the United States not only plans to fix this, but also wants to make money on the Earth’s satellite, extracting its minerals
23:08, 19 May 2020

And if after the decree of Donald Trump on the development of resources on the moon, there were still doubts about the seriousness of such plans, then after the presentation of a specific resource extraction project with partner countries, the world became convinced of the seriousness of the Americans intentions.

Resources on the Earth’s satellite are planned to be mined over the next ten years. Around US bases, they will even create special "security zones" so that other countries and companies do not interfere with the extraction. Some countries have already called what is happening "expropriation policies" and condemned the leader’s actions.

Are US claims for minerals on the moon legal, and will Ukraine be able to take part in the project?

Trump's lunar politics

Trump's statement about the extraction of resources on the satellite is by no means as unique as it might seem at first glance. Many US presidents, including Barack Obama, voiced such ideas. And in 2015, the States moved to the exploration of the moon already at the legislative level. Congress passed a law that allows US companies and citizens to use space resources.

But in the end, the former president of America had to wind down the mission - maybe because of its high cost. According to NASA, it will cost $ 20-30 billion. Trump is less concerned with this issue. He claims that the United States will send the crew to the moon by 2024. To achieve this goal, a space program with the name of the Greek goddess of hunting "Artemis" was launched, and in 2019, the US Space Forces were created.

In space exploration, as in many other things, Trump is impatient. In the book of his ex-assistant, entitled "Team of Vipers", a scene is described when Trump allegedly asked astronauts about the timing of the landing on Mars. Trump did not accept the answer that this will be possible in the 2030s with the assistance of other countries. He said that this needs to be done "at least in his second term as president."

From the point of view of the political reasons for promoting the project, this episode is as revealing as possible. Before the presidential election in 2020, Trump needs proof of how he made the country "great again."

But Trump's plans are not so surprising, because not only the United States looks towards the development of the Moon. Washington’s partners in the new project will be the countries of the European Union, Canada, Japan and the United Arab Emirates. Japan has announced similar plans for a long time: they plan to study the moon there with the help of robotic settlements. And the European lunar station "Smart-1" for almost two years photographed the surface of the moon and built maps of mineral deposits. The plan of the European Space Agency under the name "Aurora" should start in 10 years.

But who so far has remained out of agreement with the Americans in China, Russia, and India, that is, the strongest players in the field of space. In India, for example, authorities announced their intentions to begin the extraction of helium-3 on the moon by 2030. The Chinese probe back in January last year landed on the back of the satellite, and the Chinese lunar rover discovered individual minerals in the craters of the moon. The country wants to build a multi-module near-Earth space station. The ship that will fly on it, in fact, can be used for flights to the moon.

The fact that the United States left China “overboard” is quite logical, given the tension between the countries. The United States is now accusing the PRC of a coronavirus pandemic; there are statements about the possibility of a resumption of a trade war. Most likely, the Artemis itself is the answer to China with its space program.

If we talk about Russia, then the American media, referring to the Trump Administration, explain the decision not to include the country in the Pentagon’s concern about the “threatening” maneuvers of Russian satellites.

Federation ships are currently being developed in the Russian Federation, which suggests the possibility of flying to the moon and back without landing, and mining on the moon was announced 14 years ago. Roscosmos said that before 2040 they plan to launch several automatic stations for the study of lunar soil and the landing of astronauts on the moon. They wanted to build a mining site by 2050. Trump seems to be trying to get ahead of Russia.

The head of Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin compared US mining on the moon with the invasion of Iraq. And the chairman of the Federation Council’s committee on international affairs, Konstantin Kosachev, said that Russia would find a worthy response to the demarche of the US president, who is “trying to take over space” while the whole world is fighting the coronavirus.

International expert Andriy Buzarov calls what is happening a political technological continuation of the cold war between the United States and Russia.

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"The decision to exclude the state from this list is logical, based on the foreign policy of both Russia and the USA. Both countries have independent space programs. I do not think that cooperation would be possible between them. The solution is logical from the unique opportunities that the USA has. States choose for cooperation those countries that do not have a highly developed space industry. Now the USA and the Russian Federation act separately, as in the early 60s of the XX century. But if global challenges arise, they will be solved together," Buzarov is convinced.

However, NASA promptly intervened in the situation. The agency denied information that the United States did not want to include Russia in the agreement on the exploration of the moon, and clarified that the country, unlike China, meets the necessary conditions for cooperation. Roscosmos, in all likelihood, was satisfied with such an answer, as its representatives expressed their readiness for negotiations.

This proves that the project is not only Trump's ambitions, but, first of all, economic interests, including of private companies that will take part in it. Realizing an ambitious goal without the support of the United States would be extremely difficult.

As for Ukraine’s participation in the project, there is not a word about it yet. But we will return to this.

Is mining on the moon legal?

Do US plans violate laws? Indeed, more than half a century ago, almost all countries of the world signed the Space Treaty. According to it, no country should assign space territories.

An interesting loophole arises here. Firstly, the same actions by ordinary people or companies have not been settled in any way. Secondly, the United States does not actually declare sovereignty over the territories on the moon - only the right to its development. The extraction of resources on the Moon is not regulated by the agreement, as, for example, this is done with fossils in the neutral waters of the Earth.

The sphere is also regulated by the resolution of the UN General Assembly of December 1979. It states that the natural resources of the Moon are a common heritage of mankind and cannot belong either to the state or to an international intergovernmental or non-governmental organization. But the United States did not sign this agreement, as did China and the Soviet Union. This was done by France and India, as well as 16 other countries, among which there are no advanced in space exploration.

In fact, the US president, claiming the resources of the Moon, showed the insignificance of this agreement, which looked scandalous. In fact, the development radius will depend solely on the desires of the American side by the right of primacy. Whoever is the first to lodge, will own everything that he can get.

NASA later presented the "Agreement of Artemis", which meets the Space Treaty of 1967. That is, they tried to reassure those who appealed to the illegality of this decision. NASA Director said that a whole set of principles for the work of international partners is developed. Among them is the creation of special "security zones". Others will not be able to intervene in the extraction of some countries.

Countries that will be engaged in the exploration of the moon will have to publicly report what exactly they will do on the satellite and for what purpose. The signatories of the agreement will be obliged to help astronauts who are in trouble, as well as to protect objects of historical significance. In addition, countries will have to act in accordance with the guidelines of the UN relevant committee for the reduction of space debris. And not only in accordance - they will have to develop their own plans to reduce orbital debris. After completing missions, ships will need to be disposed of in time.

However, it is necessary that this treaty is ratified by the largest countries.

But the political and legal nuances of a decision are just its wrapper. The main thing is the economic component.

What countries will mine on the moon

the resources of the Moon are visible on a special map, which was recently presented by scientists of the US Geological Survey.

The highest expectations are given to helium-3, a large amount of which was found even in samples of lunar soil from the Apollo expeditions. There is no industrial quantity of helium-3 on Earth: in our Earth’s atmosphere, there are only 35 thousand tons of it. In the rock of the Moon, it is from 500 thousand to a million, since it accumulated hundreds of millions of years, while the Moon was irradiated by the Sun without protection in the form of the atmosphere.

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Helium-3 is interesting in that it is much more beneficial as a thermonuclear fuel than oil and gas. When a ton of helium-3 interacts with the right amount of deuterium, a huge amount of energy is released. To achieve the same effect with oil, you need to burn 15 million tons of it. One ton of helium-3 is enough to power all the states for 9 days.

Besides the fact that helium-3 is effective, it is also safe. It is not radioactive, and in the process of thermonuclear fusion with its participation, dangerous compounds are not formed. True, in order to use it as fuel, it is still necessary to build special thermonuclear reactors. To start the reaction, you need a temperature of about a billion degrees. Concepts for such reactors have already been developed, but such conditions could be provided for only a few seconds.

In addition to thermonuclear fusion, helium-3 can also be used in medicine, for example, for a clearer picture of MRI devices. When using the isotope, the level of the useful signal of the apparatus grows at about 10 thousand. They are more spacious than usual, they are easier to move, and most importantly - they are cheaper. Helium-3 is also used for neutron detectors that detect attempts to import nuclear materials.

Not surprisingly, such a ton of isotope is estimated at about $ 5 billion. Extraction of such an amount of isotope, according to World Security Network estimates, is cost-effective - it can cost 3 billion. But we also need an expensive infrastructure - at least for $ 20 billion. Therefore, the Russian Federation is convinced: given the absence of special reactors, it is economically disadvantageous.

But not just helium-3. At the bottom of the craters and in the shadow of high mountain ranges, where the temperature does not rise above the freezing point, there should be water. Presumably, ice on the moon arose due to the impact of comets.

Water is not needed on Earth. If hydrogen is isolated from water, it can serve as fuel for expeditions. This would decently save the money of earthlings, since the delivery of fuel to space is very energy-intensive. Also, water can be used for farms on the moon.

The British Spacebit, founded by Ukrainian Pavlo Tanasyuk, will look for H2O and other minerals on the satellite.

"The geological map shows the availability of resources only approximately, and in fact, some of them may not be there. It is not yet fully known whether there is water in the Moon in an accessible form. It is very important for technical purposes, in particular for engines. So we will find out whether there is water there and whether it can be obtained somewhere in 2022-2023. Then the next mission to the South Pole is planned, in which we will take part. If there is water there, then there will be a space economy. If no, then difficulties may arise, but not the most critical,"  Pavlo Tanasyuk assures.

According to the founder of Spacebit, platinum is more important than other minerals on the moon - not so much for the Earth, but for the space economy, for the construction of spacecraft. The presence of platinum-like minerals on the moon is proved - most likely, ancient asteroids brought them there.

A rare resource mining is also economically interesting. On Earth, about a third of them today are in China. In the coming decades, they may become scarce, so the moon is quite capable of becoming their alternative source. Yttrium, for example, is important because it is used in the manufacture of computer screens. Silicon is also actively used in electronics as the best semiconductor.

We can also need sulfur, potassium, and sodium - minerals that can be used as fertilizers for growing plant foods at the base. Solar energy and lunar regolith will be useful for building bases on the back of the satellite.

The development of resources on the moon is also the chance of discovering new minerals that can fundamentally change the life of earthlings, as well as the motivation for investing in space infrastructure.

NASA has already decided that they have chosen three companies that will be involved in the technological support of Artemis. For example, SpaceX will develop the Starship, adapted for passenger flights to the moon. It can also be used to move goods. We are also talking about the construction of a station near the moon, with which it would be possible to organize work on the surface of the satellite.

Ukraine and Artemis

Independent Ukraine and the United States have long been cooperating on space issues. The countries signed a framework agreement of 2009-2019. Of the positive results - in May 2016, a Ukrainian-American working group was created, and the director of Pivdenne construction bureau Olexander Degtyarev made an ambitious statement about Ukraine’s technological readiness for a flight to the moon and an expedition to Mars.

Participation in such a serious international project as Artemis could give our country significant image advantages. But the former head of the Space Agency Pavlo Degtyarenko says: in order to participate in the project, Ukraine must invest financially.

But the space program has not been adequately funded from the budget for several years now: on average, we allocated 10 times less than necessary. Investments are estimated in millions of hryvnias, while in the USA they spend about $ 20 billion a year on the industry. Orders from the state for Pivdenne Design Bureau make up only 2-3% of the volume of its work, and basically the profit comes from the work of the bureau on the world market. The average salary at the Design Bureau is low, and after the "coronavirus" sequestration of the budget, Ukrainian space was completely hit.

Will we sign the "Agreement of Artemis"? Andriy Buzarov is pessimistic about this. He says that our space industry as an independent player has not had any opportunities for a long time. The country is only able to fulfill certain technological orders in the framework of cooperation with space powers.

For example, the Dnipro Design Bureau created the first step for the Antares rocket. The next launch was planned for early fall of this year. For it, Ukrainian experts and designers from Yuzhmash were transferred to the United States on a charter plane under quarantine conditions. Upon arrival, the specialists were quarantined for two weeks and now work on the basis of NASA.

If we talk about the lunar project, the Pivdenne has formed a possible appearance of the lunar base, as well as technical specifications for the lunar modules, vehicles on the surface of the moon.

Ukrainian scientists also presented a lunar lander for exploring the surface of the satellite at the Dubai Airshow 2019 exhibition. It is capable of delivering a payload of up to 150 kilograms to the moon. According to the scientists themselves, there was no financial support from the state for development.

Nothing prevents Ukrainian companies from participating in space projects, but abroad. For example, in the already mentioned Spacebit, which is based in the UK, a lunar rover is being developed. It will evaluate the possibility of a long stay of astronauts in the lunar cave in July 2021, having gone to the satellite with the United Launch Alliance rocket in the landing module of the American Astrobotic.

“The lunar rover has already passed the CDR (a critical review of design). It is one of the smallest lunar rovers. Its main feature is that it moves on its ‘paws’, while everything that has stepped on the surface of the moon has been on wheels. The lunar rover will walk on the satellite’s surface as Neil Armstrong did at that time, it may be launched into space after a functional test in Earth’s orbit. Further tests are planned in vacuum chambers under the conditions of regolith radiation. Most likely, the lunar rover will be ready to launch by the new year", says Pavlo Tanasyuk.

The company's plans are spelled out 20 years in advance. Tanasyuk says that the company supports the development of clean technologies so as not to harm the moon itself. In his opinion, it is important that the descendants, looking at the Moon from the Earth, do not observe the extraction of resources.

As for Ukraine’s participation in the US project, he is sure that there are chances for this.

“Pivdenne has a great legacy, technologies that can be used for space exploration. In addition, the space agency has a new strong head. You can create a good working ecosystem, but it will all depend on how willing you are to work in Ukraine. The technologies that Ukraine has can be sold, or you can give the right to use them to start-ups in the country, like in America so that they don’t leave their homeland. Of course, many executives may have the desire for a quick profit but it would be a good strategy for the future", says the Spacebit founder.

Spacebit, for example, helps small Ukrainian startups such as Space Cossacks, who won the European Space Innovation Competition. The company also cooperates with Firefly, which is based in America but has Ukrainian roots. Firefly is currently developing a rocket for the budgetary launch of cargo into orbit.

Will the States have time to land a man on the moon before 2024 in a pandemic? It seems that it will not become an obstacle. If the work of the Pivdenne Design Bureau is suspended, even in these conditions some space centers in the USA are open. Tanasyuk says that there were some difficulties with the testing of robots, but the work is still in full swing: there are even more employees.

“We cannot control the processes associated with the pandemic, so many people have psychological problems. The dream of space exploration can help people get distracted. Remember how people waited for Apollo. The dream of landing on the moon can unite the whole of Ukraine,” sums up Tanasyuk.

Of course, space is a common asset. However, as in other areas, in space, success awaits the strongest, richest, and most importantly, the brave. So far, Ukraine can only watch how its scientists help these strongest to realize the dreams of mankind.

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