Chandrayaan 2: ISRO seeks to bet on trillion-dollar Helium-3 on the moon's surface

ISRO said Chandrayaan-2 will hunt for a waste-free nuclear energy that could answer many of Earth's energy problems.

India’s second unmanned Moon mission — Chandrayaan 2 — is all set to soft-land on the moon at 1.55 am IST early morning on 7 September. After seeing success at every turn, the Chandrayaan 2 orbiter is currently orbiting the moon at an altitude of ~100 km from the surface. The Vikram lander, with the Pragyan rover inside it, has been placed in a lower orbit by ISRO. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said that the country's second moon mission — the Rs 800 crore 'Chandrayaan-2' — is designed to hunt for deposits of Helium-3 — waste-free nuclear energy that could answer many of Earth's energy problems.

The isotope of Helium, which is abundant on the moon, could theoretically meet global energy demands for three to five centuries, a Deccan Chronicle report said. This kind of energy is also expected to be worth trillions of dollars (one expert estimated Helium-3's value at about five billion US dollars a ton). There are approximately 1 million metric tons of Helium-3 embedded in the moon, the report said, although only about a quarter of that can realistically be brought to Earth.

"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 was quoted as saying.

However, a report in The Wire points out that even if we are successful in bringing back huge deposits of Helium-3 from the moon, we are far away from having the technology to harness it. Although this isotope can be used in nuclear fusion reactors, we are over a decade away from successfully fusing the lightest fusionable isotopes of Helium in an energy-surplus reaction.

The Pragyan rover on Chandrayaan 2 is expected to leave the Vikram lander and travel a total distance of 500 meters on the lunar surface, using its solar panels to power up its motors. For two weeks, rover and lander will carry out various scientific experiments using its many onboard chemical analyzers. For all this to even take place, everything will have to go smoothly with the soft-landing, which is an automated set of instructions, and far from a straightforward procedure.

Space agencies – Israel, Japan, Germany, and South Korea – have learned the hard way in the past. Hopefully, Chandrayaan 2 is a success in that, as lunar exploration is something all of humanity benefits from and not just one country.

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