Lunar Energy and Mineral Resources: New Insights from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), launched in June, 2009, is armed with an array of instruments—LAMP, LOLA, LEND, Mini-SAR, DIVINER, LCROSS—that collectively are detecting, mapping, and measuring a variety of lunar energy and mineral resources. LRO applies similar remote sensing techniques used in Earth-orbiting satellites for environmental monitoring, mapping and mineral exploration. However, LRO is detecting hydrogen, water ice, helium-3, radionuclides, and rare-earth elements (REEs). These in situ resources can support extended scientific missions to the moon as well as provide permanent bases with local sources of rocket propellants, nuclear and solar energy, construction materials, and food and water. For example, water ice is disseminated within the shallow (<40 cm) regolith in permanently shadowed craters near the poles. Recent findings from DIVINER and LCROSS have confirmed >5 wt% hydrogen in some permanently shadowed craters near the South Pole. In addition, regolith-bound hydrogen in non-polar areas occurs in sufficient abundance to contribute significantly to the overall accessible resource base. LRO is also refining our understanding of the distribution and concentration of metals in lunar basalts, as well as thorium and uranium associated with silicic volcanic domes. Broad areas of regolith with high concentrations of KREEP (potassium, REEs, and phosphorus) are associated with late-stage magmatic outflows concentrated in Oceanus Procellarum. However, recent LRO data also indicate up to 55 ppm thorium in farside feldspathic terrains that were formerly believed to have low thorium content. Further, the availability of REEs and energy minerals, such as thorium and uranium, indicate that with existing technology, we could support an active program on the moon, and with reasonable advances in technology, the Moon could export high-valued materials to Earth such as helium-3. Viable and potentially self-supporting lunar bases on the Moon can provide a support facility for missions to Mars or mining activities on the Near-Earth and Main-Belt asteroids.
AAPG Search and Discovery Article #90142 © 2012 AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition, April 22-25, 2012, Long Beach, California