New Delhi: It was a grand moment for India when Chandrayaan-2 took off from Sriharikotta on 22 July. The mission includes sending a lander and a lunar rover to the surface of the moon. Both the lander and the rover will land at the lunar south pole, a place not yet explored by any other space faring nations.
The main objective of the mission is to map the location and abundance of lunar water. However, there is also another major mission for Chandrayaan-2. The rover will check for deposits of a possible power source – Helium-3 – which could power the Earth for over five centuries.
Helium-3 which is very rare on the surface of Earth is believed to be abundant on the moon’s surface. It is produced in the Sun and emitted through the solar winds. The moon’s surface absorbs the solar winds directly because it does not have an atmosphere like Earth.
Helium-3 is an isotope which can be used in nuclear fusion reactors to create energy without producing the radioactive and nuclear waste. The present nuclear reactors use nuclear fission which causes the waste that must be stored for an indefinite amount of time.
If the world switches to nuclear fusion powered by Helium-3 then the world will have an efficient and abundant energy source free of the dangerous radioactive waste materials.
Besides, Helium-3 is worth a multi-trillion business which could further fuel the economy and development of the country. One estimate pegs the value of 1 ton of Helium-3 at US$ 5 billion.
It is estimated that there is around 1 million tons of Helium-3 on the lunar surface.
ISRO Chairman, K. Sivan told the media, “The countries which have the capacity to bring that source from the moon to Earth will dictate the process. We don’t want to be just a part of them, we want to lead them.”
Space faring nations have taken an active interest in mining the Moon’s surface to obtain the much coveted Helium-3. The United States, Russia, European Union, and China have by and then announced plans for such a massive project. The US also plans to establish a permanent base on Moon with the explicit aim of harnessing this energy source.
However, the tremendous task of mining and transporting the Helium-3 back to Earth is daunting. Even the technology of nuclear fusion to harness Helium-3 is still a decade away.
India’s Chandrayaan mission is our first step in our search for the new energy source that could make our country a leading player in energy politics in the coming decades.