Chennai: India’s next moon mission Chandrayaan-2 will land on the lunar surface to search for deposits of helium-3 and its potential for mining. The isotope, abundant on the moon, could theoretically meet global energy demands for three to five centuries. Helium-3, the source of waste-free nuclear energy is expected to be worth trillions of dollars
Chandrayaan-2 is expected to be launched in October this year. The mission includes an orbiter, lander and a rover. The rover will be operated for two weeks on the surface of the moon. The data will be transmitted from rover to lander and in turn to Isro for analysis.
“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,” Isro chairman K.Sivan told foreign media in the course of meetings in Vienna.
Isro is also aiming to build a space station in orbit and put the Indian crew on the moon. But the government is yet to give approval for the programme. “We are ready and waiting. We have equipped ourselves to take on this programme,” he was quoted as saying.
Solar winds have bombarded the moon with immense quantities of helium-3 because it's not protected by a magnetic field like Earth is. There are an estimated 1 million metric tons of helium-3 embedded in the moon, though only about a quarter of that realistically could be brought to Earth.
Another expert estimated that helium-3's value at about five billion dollars a ton and with 2,50,000 tonnes it could be worth in trillions of dollars. “If the cost makes sense, it will become a game-changer,” another scientist said.
China is the only country to put a lander and rover on the moon this century with its Chang’e 3 mission in 2013. There are many obstacles to overcome before the material can be used - including the logistics of collection and delivery back to earth and build fusion power plants to convert the material into energy. If the mission succeeds, it will place India among the fleet of nations who explore the moon, Mars and beyond for scientific, commercial or military gains.