NASA to buy lunar mined material from private companies


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Capitalism in space: NASA yesterday announced that, rather than develop its own lunar sample missions, it wants to buy such lunar mined material obtained from private companies.

NASA on Thursday launched an effort to pay companies to mine resources on the moon, announcing it would buy from them rocks, dirt and other lunar materials as the U.S. space agency seeks to spur private extraction of coveted off-world resources for its use.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine wrote in a blog post accompanying the announcement that the plans would not violate a 1967 treaty that holds that celestial bodies and space are exempt from national claims of ownership.

The initiative, targeting companies that plan to send robots to mine lunar resources, is part of NASA’s goal of setting what Bridenstine called “norms of behavior” in space and allowing private mining on the moon in ways that could help sustain future astronaut missions. NASA said it views the mined resources as the property of the company, and the materials would become “the sole property of NASA” after purchase.

This announcement continues NASA’s transition under the Trump administration from trying to run everything to simply being a customer buying what it needs and wants from the private sector. The idea is smart, as it will guarantee that these samples will be obtained in the cheapest and fastest way possible, while simultaneously sparking the development of a competitive and thriving private industry capable of flying all kinds of planetary missions. The lower costs of these private planetary probes will in turn will spark the creation of a new private sector of customers buying those probes for their own profit-centered needs.

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4 comments

  • sippin_bourbon

    This is another step in the correct direction.

  • Col Beausabre

    I can see NASA being broken up into three parts

    1) A regulatory arm to ensure safe space flight and fulfil the US’s international obligations
    2) An agency encouraging space flight and the development of space engineering
    3) A scientific research institution

    Essentially, the FAA, NACA and NSF for space – as a matter of fact, the first and third could be folded into those agencies, with a slimmed down NASA doing the second.

    If you are not familiar with NACA – The act of Congress creating NACA, approved March 3, 1915, reads, “…It shall be the duty of the advisory committee for aeronautics to supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight with a view to their practical solution. ”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Advisory_Committee_for_Aeronautics#:~:text=The%20National%20Advisory%20Committee%20for%20Aeronautics%20%28NACA%29%20was,newly%20created%20National%20Aeronautics%20and%20Space%20Administration%20%28NASA%29.

  • Max

    I agree, a step in the right direction. Any progress is better than none at all.
    Although I do worry about quasi-Government multinational structures, with unlimited resources, with ways and means to buy or forced buyout the competition to have a monopoly over everyone else. (we live in uncertain times)
    Under that scenario, a beachhead on the moon can be established by a private company with intentions of selling to one customer (unlikely) but claiming independence, enabling it to do what it wants. The sponsor (NASA) will be obliged to protect it’s investment hence the need for space force. People do what they’re familiar with and this seems to be setting up a familiar scenario similar to Black rock mercenaries. (proven reliable assets?)
    This operation will be the largest and most expensive leap forward of the modern age. Nothing will be left to chance.

    Col Beausabre;
    Your analysis of organizational requirements shows you’ve had experience with the bureaucracy. Well done. I would add one more agency to your list.
    “The Navy”
    Mining has huge power requirements, submarines not only are self-contained vessels well experienced in procedures of safety proven reliable in a hostile environment, but the nuclear power plant designed to last 20? year’s, can power a small city.
    A cheap nuclear reactor might be available to a private company from the Russians giving them a stake in the operations, we will know who’s running things when we see who supplies the materials. (i’m thinking of Eisenhowers warning when he left office)

  • Edward

    The use of the word “mining” may be misleading some people. I expect that the resources mined in this round will be taken from the surface or very near it. Until veins of minerals are found, then an underground mine probably is not worth the effort. As with mining water at the poles, early mining efforts will more likely resemble strip mining.

    From the article:

    “The bottom line is we are going to buy some lunar soil for the purpose of it demonstrating that it can be done,” Bridenstine said

    This suggests two things to me. First, NASA is testing the Outer Space Treaty to make sure that extraterrestrial resources really are legally available for the use of all mankind. If other countries do not object then a precedent is set. Second, they want to gain confidence in the companies that do the work, as many of the potential companies are fairly new and do not yet have vast internal resources to draw upon (the large companies that have such resources may be reluctant to expend them on an uncertain new venture such as this).

    Under contracts whose terms would vary, a company mining on the moon would collect lunar rocks or dirt to sell to NASA without having to bring the resources back to Earth.

    sippin_bourbon is right, it is a good start, but unless NASA has plans for insitu examination of these collected resources, then it does little to advance science and is only useful for advancing the technologies and techniques needed for getting there and collecting the samples.

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