Depleting conventional energy resources are fast becoming a pressing concern for the world, but an answer could be found up in the heavens. India's space program is planning a trip to the south side of the moon, where it will look for a waste-free source of nuclear energy that could power the world for coming centuries, according to a Bloomberg report.
India's space agency, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), will launch a rover to the unexplored side of the moon, becoming the first to reach it, if successful. Once there, ISRO will look for presence of water and helium-3 isotope deposits. The rover landing is part of a series of projects planned for ISRO, including putting a space station in orbit and placing an Indian crew on the moon.
Dubbed as Chandrayaan-2, the upcoming mission to the moon will include an orbiter, lander and a six-wheel rectangular rover. The rover will send images of the surface to the lander, which will transmit them back to ISRO for analysis. The rover will collect information for at least 14 days and will cover a 400-meter radius.
ISRO will be spending around $125 million on its new moon mission. The Indian space agency is known for its low-budget space missions - the Chandrayaan-1 in 2008 and Mars Orbiter Mission in 2013.
While helium-3 is available on Earth too, it is in limited supply. On the other hand, the moon theoretically could have enough of the isotope to meet global energy needs for 250 years if harnessed, the Bloomberg report said. Since the isotope is not radioactive, it could be used in fusion reactors for nuclear energy without dangerous nuclear by-products. If such deposits are found, ISRO will look for ways to mine this isotope.
There could be 1 million metric tonnes of helium-3 embedded in the moon, the report said, although only 250,000 tonnes could be brought to Earth. It estimated that a ton of helium-3 could cost $5 billion, taking the total value of the total deposit available to trillions of dollars.
"The countries which have the capacity to bring that source from the moon to Earth will dictate the process. I don't want to be just a part of them, I want to lead them," K. Sivan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation, was quoted as saying in the report.
However, even if ISRO finds helium-3 on the moon, there are obstacles that need to be addressed before it can be utilised. The space agency will have to figure out how it will mine and bring back the isotope to Earth. Building fusion power plants to convert this resource into energy is another issue that has to be looked at. Additionally, there is no international treaty on commercial entities allowed to keep what they have mined from space, said the report. Only the US and Luxembourg have passed legislations to this effect.