There is global space race among countries to build Moon bases, harness it’s mineral resources and helium-3, fuel for future nuclear fusion power plants. Space agencies in China, Japan, Europe, Russia, Iran , Canada and a few private companies all hope to send people to the moon by as early as 2025. They’re talking about building bases, mining for natural resources, and studying the moon in unprecedented detail. A key figure at the European Space Agency says we must look at how we exploit the moon’s resources before it is too late, as missions begin surface mapping.
The moon has abundant of invaluable materials; an acronym KREEP signifies the richness of geochemical components potassium (K), rare-earth elements (REE) and phosphorus (P) in lunar rocks. The lunar orbiters from Europe, China, Japan, India and US have also pointed to the presence of minerals and related geologic processes.
The moon is also rich in helium-3, gold, cobalt, iron, palladium and tungsten. The soil samples collected by Appolo 17 mission had confirmed the presence of helium-3. Helium-3 can fuel non-radioactive nuclear fusion reactors in the future to produce safe, efficient and clean energy, vital to our energy security. Scientists estimate that the moon could contain approximately 1 million tons of helium-3, enough to power the entire earth for 10,000 years.
The growing competition for moon resources may turn into conflict in the future. Countries may plan for a military presence on the moon to safeguard their interests. This will lead to enhanced militarization and weaponization of the moon. Countries now require lunar weapons for future conflicts on the moon.
This is similar to the space race that raged in the 1950s, when US Army engineers were hard at work developing tactics for fighting the Soviets on the Moon. Nicknamed ‘Project Horizon’ the United States Army planned on constructing a fortified Moon base to wage war with the USSR.
The goal of Project HORIZON was to produce a plan for building a self-sustained Moon base that would serve as an outpost for exploration of the Moon and further exploration of space. The base, which ultimately would house between ten and twenty personnel, would be the “first permanent manned installation on the moon” and, perhaps most importantly, would provide a platform for the Army, if required, to conduct “military operations on the Moon.”
Recognizing that there was essentially no atmosphere on the Moon, and that surface temperatures ranged between 248 degrees Fahrenheit (lunar day) and minus 202 degrees Fahrenheit (lunar night), the scientists decided that the lunar base should be built underground. They suggested that natural “holes” or “caves” could be covered and sealed with pressure bags to create living spaces. This sort of construction also had the attraction of lessening the danger from meteorites. To power the station, the Army planned to send two nuclear reactors to the Moon that would provide power for both living quarters and construction equipment. The scientists also believed that solar energy would ultimately serve as an energy source for the lunar base.
Oxygen and water would be extracted from the natural environment of the Moon. Military personnel stationed at the lunar base would wear space suits and carry special weapons and equipment developed expressly for Moon use.
Using weapons in the extremes of space, including wild temperature swings and low gravity, would present challenges for both those who design and carry the weapons.
First is Moon’s lower gravity, 1/6th the gravity of Earth, scientists feared the kickback of a conventional weapon could knock astronaut soldiers down, or even send them flying off into space.
Muzzle velocity would also have to be less than the escape velocity of the moon’s gravitational field. The US Air Force didn’t want a hail-storm of weapon rounds to turn into dangerous space debris.
Engineers feared the extreme temperature changes on the moon would render regular guns not only useless—but also dangerous—to users. During the Lunar day, materials could explode, and at night, they would freeze. Lubricants also evaporate in space, meaning any metals in contact with one another had a danger of binding or even welding together.
Initially, the office thought that lasers would be the answer, but the Air Force was quick to rain on their parade, stating that lasers were “20 years away,” which was still wildly optimistic. The office settled on a mix of gas and spring-propelled guns.
Spring-loaded dart guns were theorized to have the same power as a rifle due to the vacuum of space. Shoulder mounted “sausage guns” would fire a swarm of projectiles at a target with little recoil. These weapons only needed to penetrate a space suit or Lunar vehicle, as a leak would be tantamount to death.
Russian’s were practicing a slightly more pragmatic approach. With the deployment of the Salyut III military space station, the Soviets successfully tested a space cannon that was used to destroy asteroids and potentially to defend itself from American attack.
Directed Energy Weapons
Richard D. Fisher Jr, a Senior Fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said: “By 2023 it should be possible for China to build a space-based laser battle platform weighing 5 tons and carrying 2.5 tons of chemical laser fuel”. In a paper entitled ‘China’s Progress with Directed Energy Weapons’ the expert in Asian military affairs stressed that China’s space program was being developed for potential military missions.
The academic argued the need to build “a robust government and private sector infrastructure for getting to, and staying on, the Moon can potentially help deter China from militarising the Moon”. Referring to the development of directed energy weapons for space, Mr Fisher said China “may by now have an active space laser combat satellite program”.
Writing in the report for the International Assessment and Strategy Centre, he said: “China is working to dominate a potential next generation of warfare centred on directed energy weapons.”
For the US to be competitive with China’s advances in this area the academic said Washinton needed to “devote greater resources to developing energy weapon technologies and exploit potential military coalition advantages while seeking necessary geostrategic advantages”.
The report outlined how China had developed low-power electric Solid State Laser (SSL) “kill” weapons. Beijing has also advanced the development of using “electro-thermal launch” to boost the power of conventional artillery. But mostly there is great interest in China’s development of High Power Microwave (HPM) weapons.
In 2014, at the Zhuhai Airshow, China’s Poly Corporation revealed its WB-1 microwave “active-denial” system. China’s WB-1 microwave “active denial system” was developed to attack large groups of people and can “project skin frying microwaves out to 80 metres”.
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