EMAILED ON November 18, 2019 BY Conor Grant

The race to mine the moon is taking off — even though no one’s sure if it’s possible

A California-based company called OffWorld, whose ultimate goal is to enable “human expansion beyond our home planet,” is preparing for the initial phase of its extraterrestrial plans: mining the moon with a fleet of autonomous robots. 

The company, which boasts a 26-person team according to Digital Trends, is one of several companies with sky-high ambitions. 

The moon-mining industry has already begun to take off thanks to moonshot investments, but the industry still faces an interesting problem…

No one knows if the moon is even minable

Scientists and entrepreneurs disagree on how prevalent minable resources are, how useful they could be, and how expensive it would be to commercially mine them.

Most plans focus on mining 3 main materials: 

  • Water, which could be converted to rocket fuel 
  • Helium-3, which could power nuclear fusion reactors
  • Rare earth minerals, which could be used in manufacturing

But scientists are skeptical about the feasibility of moon mining

According to NASA, plans for space mining are “still guesswork.” 

“There could be enough helium-3 to power the earth for 10,000 years,” the Washington Post reported. “Or there might not be enough to ever make commercial mining profitable, even if the entire lunar surface were being mined.”

A planetary geologist also points out that “most of the Moon’s… valuable metals are… essentially impossible to access,” and no one has yet developed a cost-effective way to transport any of those resources back to earth.

Entrepreneurs, though, are still bullish on moon mining

“The Moon is Earth’s 8th continent,” writes moon-mining startup Moon Express. “Like the Earth, the Moon has been enriched with vast resources. Unlike the Earth, these resources are largely on or near the lunar surface, relatively accessible.”

Here’s a quick rundown of the companies that have raised big bucks in the race:

  • Moon Express, which has raised $65.5m from investors like Peter Thiel, plans to commercialize moon missions, democratize lunar research, and enable further space transportation and exploration. 
  • ispace, a Japanese company, has raised $94.2m to “expand commercial space activities centered around lunar resources.”
  • Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’s space exploration company, has raised $13m to build lunar landers that could one day mine moon water (among other things).
  • Two startups called Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries raised $50.3 and $3.5m for space mining before they were acquired by large companies (although they were focused more on asteroid mining than moon mining).

You know what they say: Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you can always go back and raise another round of VC funding.