India’s Mission to Find and Mine Futuristic Nuclear Fuel on the Moon Is About to Launch

June 27, 2018, 11:48 AM UTC

India is set to launch a lunar rover in October to look for signs of water and a nuclear fuel called helium-3 in the moon’s crust, according to a Bloomberg report.

A lot of countries and companies are keen on exploiting helium-3, which scientists hope could be used in a kind of nuclear fusion that doesn’t create radioactive waste. If this pans out, the isotope could provide safer nuclear energy over the coming centuries.

Helium-3 is already produced on Earth, and is used for things like detecting illicit radioactive materials at ports, but it’s rare and very expensive. The moon has a lot more of it.

So far, China has been the only country this century to put a rover on the moon, partly in order to scout out helium-3 deposits. Now India is following suit.

India’s intention of mining the moon for helium-3 was in fact first reported early last year, following comments by Sivathanu Pillai, a professor at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO,) India’s equivalent to NASA. Those reports were initially scotched due to a supposed misquotation of Pillai, but the space agency is now clearly pursuing that goal.

“The countries which have the capacity to bring that source from the moon to Earth will dictate the process,” ISRO chair K. Sivan told Bloomberg. This will be India’s first mission to the moon, and the ISRO hopes to establish a space station and, ultimately, a moon base.

The Trump administration also wants to send U.S. astronauts back to the moon. Russia plans to send a lander to the moon next year, and the Indian and Japanese space agencies are cooperating on their own lunar efforts, largely because they’re worried about the Chinese getting too far ahead.

Private enterprise is also involved in the new space race, with Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin company intending to build a moon colony.