Research institution plots course to help mine moon
The Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology is upgrading lunar rovers in search of minerals and water.
Luxembourg’s economy is aiming high – for the moon, to be precise. Late last November, the Luxembourg National Research Fund made its first ever commitment to the development of space mining. The €700,000 in funds will support two space-related projects to harvest the moon for a variety of resources, including metals such as iron, nickel, tungsten cobalt and rare-earth elements, as well as lunar water, which scientists believe could eventually be used to sustain human life beyond our planet.
“Luxembourg’s economy is oriented towards the future, and it is based on new technologies,” observes Reinig. “In this way, Luxembourg has become a laboratory that can oversee the creation of the economy of the future.”
While hitherto the realm of space has been strictly that of national governments and international agencies, today private firms have easier access to emerging technologies. Luxembourg wants to make that access even easier. “The space industry can utilize our miniaturized analytics equipment, which can be retrofitted to microscopes to provide super-high resolution,” comments Fernand Reinig, CEO of the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST), which, together with the University of Luxembourg, will receive the funding for both space projects. Structured as public-private partnerships, both projects will intensify Luxembourg’s collaboration with ispace, a Tokyo-based lunar exploration company that recently moved its research and development activities to Luxembourg. “Robotic space rovers made by ispace will harvest lunar water and we will mature their mass spectrometers, an instrument that will allow for detailed material analysis of that water,” Reinig declares. “We are also applying patents from other fields to the more than dozen other space projects currently running at LIST,” he adds.
The next step for LIST and ispace is to develop a space-deployable focal plane detector, a device that can map a range of masses simultaneously, which will be attached as a backpack to lunar rovers. That the underlying objective is to identify and utilize resources in outer space – not to bring them back to earth – is an indication of Luxembourg’s ambition.