#104 April 1997
Section 126.96.36.199.104.of the Artemis Data Book
by Peter Kokh
In our IN FOCUS essay in MMM #100, Nov. '96 "Time to begin brainstorming Lunar Prospector II", our recommendation called for reflights of the polar orbital mission profile using instruments similar to those aboard Lunar Prospector [I] of much greater resolution. Next on our wish list was an orbital probe instrumented [wide-aperture radar] to detect large nearer surface voids i.e. lavatubes. In the few months since, there has been the announcement of a positive find of water ice at the Lunar South Pole by Clementine scientists using ingenious application of instruments not originally intended or maximized for the detection of water ice. This major development has given us major incentive to rethink the question of what should come next.
The general knowledge that there is a major volatile reserve and resource at the south pole does not in itself give us enough information to even begin plan intelligently how to access it. We do not now know how extensive a permashade area is covered with ice, nor whether despite Clementine's failure to detect any, there are similar reserves at the North lunar pole. There are no reasons other than topography (which affects the amount and placement of permashade) why there should be any difference in the capture and retention rate of the two poles for comet-impact derived volatiles.
Nor do we now have more than anecdotal back-of-envelope guesstimates of just how thick the deposits are either in specific instances or on the average. Nor how impure the ice is: how much carbon oxide ice and other frozen volatiles are mixed in with the water ice, or with how much regolith "sand" and grit it is composited. We can only assume the ice's temperature and hardness - which will affect the design and engineering of any mining equipment needed to access these reserves.
Only a rover can tell us how uniform the deposits are, or how this correlates with the amount and monthly duration of ambient reflected sunlight. Or if the %age included carbon oxide ices varies according to some pattern that can be predicted from environmental clues. Any such information would be of great practical engineering and scheduling importance for proposed mining operations.
Scientifically, much more is to be learned about the age of the ice and the state of the Solar System at the time these deposits were laid down, presumably through cometary impacts. Scattered drill core sampling and ice surface micrographs might prove invaluable indicators.
Clearly, what needs to come next is not, as we had first proposed, another in a series of orbiting probes, but rather a squadron of landed "ground truth" stations and/or rovers, that will be able to adequately "assay" the ice, and fully qualify and quantify it. - call them Ice Man I, Ice Man II, Ice Man III, or whatever you want. Our need is for on-the-ground equipment that will give us the knowledge to engineer the mining and processing equipment and attendant infrastructure to begin tapping this resource intelligently. Before we have results from these Ice Men landers, any development scenarios we put together will be proportionately half-baked.
David Anderman, a tireless and undiscourageable space activist from California, active in the National Space Society, Space Frontier Foundation, and the California Space Development Council, worked hard to write and then shepherd through both houses of Congress the Lunar Data Services Purchase Act. His aim was to provide funding for a private Lunar Prospector mission.
Along came NASA's "smaller, faster, cheaper" Discovery Mission opportunity and the award, against stiff competition, to the Lockheed-sponsored Lunar Prospector team. So as it turned out, the Act was not needed to bring this lunar polar orbiting chemical mapper to a long awaited reality. But the Act is still in place and can be used to fund a follow up. According to Anderman's strategy, Congress would pay X dollars to any agency or outfit that does the specified mission and comes back with the data.
To actually lure a company or agency into putting together any such probe and mission, the financial reward has to be high enough. So what if Congress is too stingy, and offers say a $30 million reward for an effort that will cost much more than that? Are we dead in the water? Not necessarily - not if we don't put all our eggs in this one revenue basket. With Congress' assent, but without its financial risk, the pot can be sweetened considerably by the awarding of royalty rights. (MMM credits this idea to Bob Zubrin, charismatic architect of the Mars Direct mission scenario.) Simply put, any mining or development company subsequently harvesting a surveyed and assayed water ice field would have to pay a set per ton royalty to whomever did the assay of that particular field.
An option would be to give the assaying agency itself the primary development rights to the assayed ice field, theirs to hold, use, or sell at whatever price the market will bear. There would have to be hefty civil and criminal penalties for substantial misrepresentation of the quantity and purity of the ice deposits in question.
In either case, the proposed legislation does more than provide an economic formula sufficient to attract execution of the desired task. It establishes an economic "terrace" which will work to encourage subsequent development of the resource deposits to be assayed. As such, this legislation would provide the very first breakout point towards the long-anticipated space-based economy.
But actually, without realizing it, David Anderman's Act and Lunar Prospector which will fly anyway, have already broken significant new ground. Together they mark the first break in the exploration paradigm, from the search for pure knowledge to the search for useful resources. Indeed, this is why we first proposed the name "Prospector" for what was then the Lunar Polar Probe Project back in the fall of 1988 - to encourage a paradigm shift from exploration to prospecting. The legislative follow on outlined above would now open a third dimension: from exploration to prospecting to development.
But what about the Outer Space treaty and the Moon Treaty? Don't they preclude any such arrangements? As the witticism goes, it's much easier to win forgiveness than permission. He who hesitates is lost. The meek may inherit the Earth, but surely, the timid will not do likewise. We need to "just do it", establish a fait accompli, and then fight to have what we have done upheld, and the treaties adjusted or reinterpreted to fit reality. Inappropriate treaties have never stopped reasonable development before. If nervous Annies interfere on behalf of misbegotten paperwork and succeed in thwarting lunar development, it will be a first.
We have to believe in ourselves, and in our cause, and have the conviction of what we are doing. Lunar resources have the real potential of making possible "a Greener, Cleaner Earth" for the benefit of all through the accessing of clean, environment-safe space-based power. (Electric power generation is in gross aggregate the single dirtiest thing we do on this Earth!) It is not we who would follow this course, but those who would stop it, who ultimately would bear the guiltier conscience. However "benign" the language of the treaties, a proper sense of smell detects the hidden rat. We must have the gumption to proceed regardless- we owe that to everyone, not just ourselves. It is the World's poorest billions who stand to gain the most..
So our argument goes from the need to answer the questions that Lunar Prospector can't address, to the kind of missions that need to come next to the kind of legislation we'll need to ensure the job gets done. We have a bill to write, establishing royalties and/or development rights. Then we must shepherd it through Congress. The time to begin is now.
Contents of this issue of Moon Miners' Manifesto