Possible environmental benefits of off-Earth mining

Executive order signed by Trump to encourage extraction of resources on the Moon. Not sure what this means in practice (possibly it’s just symbolic), as it seems to fly in the face of the Outer Space Treaty, which the US is a signatory to. I know many people are worried about the downsides of this (there are some, I acknowledge), but as someone who works in space science I want to talk about some of the possible upsides. Notably, there are possible environmental gains to be had.

It is easier to get from the Moon or some asteroids to low Earth orbit than it is to get from Earth to low Earth orbit. If we mine ice on either the Moon or asteroids, apply electrolysis to separate out the hydrogen and oxygen, we can use that as a propellant for satellites or space missions. This will mean fewer refuel launches from Earth, and having to relaunch fewer satellites (today they last ~20 years then run out of fuel so we relaunch them).

Metals are becoming increasing harder to extract on Earth, with many of the concentrated, near surface deposits already being extracted. This leaves a number of deeper and less concentrated deposits with a greater impact to extract. As we are reliant on metals, extracting these from an asteroid and returning them to Earth may have less of an environmental impact.

Helium 3 can be found on the Moon in abundance. While nuclear fusion technology seems to be some way off, if it were commercialised, a supply of helium 3 from the Moon could supply fusion reactors for clean energy.

And an extra one not quite related to mining – but some people have proposed putting solar panels on the Moon and beaming the power back to the Earth’s surface to be collected and used.

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