Colonizing Luna, Part 4: Mining


Originally written: 8 August 2005. Previous | Overview | Next

Mainly this will include electric-powered, remote-controlled diggers and conveyor trucks or belts.

The first target for mining is to grade a level path for the maglev launcher track. This means that the mined material will not be specific; it will be generic Lunar soil, carried to the solar furnace.

A later mining target will be craters that need to be formed into parabolic surfaces to house massive telescope reflectors.

Available materials

What are the main elements and compounds available at the Lunar surface?

TiO2 (titanium oxide). Obviously, Ti is a good lightweight building material.
FeO2, other iron compounds. Strong, and magnetic. Cobalt might be better, but iron can be used for the mag-lev system.
H2O (ice). Vital for life-support systems, and if separated into H2 and O2, a good chemical propellant.
SiO2 (quartz, quartzite, rhyolite). Good for lenses and semiconductors.
SiO4 (basalt).
K (potassium)
Ca (calcuim)
Al (aluminum). Like titanium, it is a good structural material. Perhaps alloys with other materials will enable aluminum to remain ductile at low temperatures.
Mg (magnesium). Yet again, a light & strong metal. And again, alloys may maintain ductility or conductivity through a range of temperatures.

Missing elements

The main missing elements are nitrogen and carbon. These are needed for organic compounds used in life-support systems, plastics, and other flexible fabrics.

I do not know this technology well, nor am I sure that anyone knows it. The obvious problem is that on earth, the equipment used for mining and conveying is massive. How do we scale up from Earth-built small equipment to Luna-built, industrial-scale equipment?

Prospecting will also need to be done, and this means the location of mining will change and be difficult to predict. Mined material probably will need to be transported to a fixed-location refinery, so either conveyors will need to be extended out in various directions, or trucks will need to be used, or both.

The diggers and loader trucks can probably be controlled from Earth, since the functions are simple and the time-delay will not be a problem.

Politically, it may be most acceptable to mine the far-side since the mining will be messy and ugly to environmentalists who may complain about scarring the visible side of the moon.

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