Having many years experience working at some of the largest mine sites in the world and for some of the largest mining companies, we would like to show why traditional mining methods are problematic for mining the Lunar surface.
One of the biggest problems with the Lunar surface is the extreme radiation and temperatures of the Lunar environment, lets assume that mining on the Lunar surface will be autonomous and therefor life support conditions will not be considered, neither will the ability for humans to perform tasks.
Radiation and Regolith
The Lunar dust covers the majority of the Lunar surface and has a consistency similar to that of cooking flour, there is also the issue of statically charged lunar dust.
As the solar radiation heats the Lunar surface, it causes regolith (the Lunar dust) to pop like pop-corn and shoot up about 2 meters, this may not sound like much of an issue however when you have a mining operation it can quickly become a big one.
Mines on Earth get covered in dust however they have whats called “wash-down” which like the name suggests is when you get a hose and wash down all the equipment to remove the dust, this is not possible on the moon and presents the first of many issues.
If you don’t “wash-down” then you will start to experience a rapid rate of wear and tear on the mining equipment. Given the Lunar dust is statically charged and super abrasive, this will be a major issue albeit a basic mining issue here on Earth.
Wear plates & teeth
The first thing that stands out with excavators is the rapid rate the excavator teeth wear and need replacing
These teeth are typically made of special hardened metals designed to protect the actual vehicle from wearing, this however comes with monthly maintenance which would not be possible on the Lunar surface for the near future.
Dozers are another machine which requires wear plates and wear teeth to protect the blade/bucket from wearing causing major damage.
Rams & lubrication
Almost all mining vehicles use rams and or some form of lubrication that is exposed to the elements, these require a great deal of maintenance and regular replacement of lubricants.
Given the extreme temperatures on the Lunar surface, traditional rams can not be used. The temperatures destroy the lubrication along with the static regolith determined to get into any available crack, gap or crevice.
With no atmosphere in space to act as a lubricant, you can guarantee additional rapid wear and tear.
Size & Power
A mine on earth can be built within 18 months if the operation is smooth however many take several years to be built and commissioned into full operation, this is taking into account that here we have energy grids to power the smelters and refineries that make it all possible to produce the infrastructure.
Along with this there are teams of several thousand people that build a mine just to get it into operation, take into account also that one mine may produce as little as 1% of global demand for that resource.
Without a large energy network, it would be very difficult to power even a small traditional mine processing facility which would be required when using traditional mining technology.
Although this post is brief and doesn’t go into much technical details, it’s purpose is to inspire new and innovative ideas for mining resources in space.
To mine in space it is clear that the traditional methods wont work unless we can have manned teams such as on Earth, as far as we are aware there is no mine on Earth that doesn’t require regular service and maintenance and therefore mining on the moon or in space must be done differently.