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I was reading this article (terrible layout, sorry). This paragraph caught my eye:

While Japan is hoping to send humans to the Moon sometime in the future, Keiji Tachikawa, president of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), said Japan's initial focus in the years ahead will be to probe the Moon for "potential utilization." He said the Japanese spacecraft Kaguya, which was launched on a trajectory to the Moon Sept. 14, will begin its scientific explorations in October.

What is meant by 'probing the moon for potential utilization'? What are the 'potential utilizations'? How will the probing be done?

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  • $\begingroup$ It should be noted here that SELENE (aka Kaguya) launched in September 2007 and ended operations in June 2009 when it was deorbited and the probe impacted the lunar surface. Much has happened since 2009 in Japan, including a devastating earthquake triggering equally devastating tsunami that lead to the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. That some wild plans for lunar ISRU appeared in the following years is hardly surprising - people need hope when all seems lost. But the question asks about a citation (and JAXA's lunar ISRU plans) from 2007. $\endgroup$ – TildalWave Sep 19 '14 at 2:45
  • $\begingroup$ Could this have been a reference to LUNAR-A? $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Sep 19 '14 at 18:56
  • $\begingroup$ @called2voyage Doubt it. Lunar-A was cancelled in January 2007 and the article quoted here is dated October 2007. I suspect it's still related though since an unfortunate cancellation like that (see linked to article) would cause some rethinking of lunar exploration priorities in the agency. Especially since Lunar-A was already a 10 year old mission design when they cancelled it. $\endgroup$ – TildalWave Sep 19 '14 at 21:55
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Every time I hear of utilizing the Moon for anything, I generally assume that highest degree of reasonable applicablity is Helium-3 extraction. Fortunately for people interested in this topic, the media tends to find it fairly interesting:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2716417/Could-moon-fuel-Earth-10-000-years-China-says-mining-helium-satellite-help-solve-worlds-energy-crisis.html

http://www.sciences360.com/index.php/jaxa-nasa-lunar-base-moon-helium-3-technology-fusion-power-7166/

Given the current state of affairs on Earth, energy policy is becoming increasingly important and open to innovative and non-conventional solutions. He-3 fusion is certainly an excellent medium- to long-term alternative to <environmentalist> completely and irreparably destroying the environment for no reason by ignoring obvious externalities </environmentalist>. Japan has traditionally been fairly open to the nuclear option and, recent difficulties aside, will probably continue to look toward nuclear in the future. Fusion is substantial more desirable than fission, of course, and many would argue that He-3 will trivialize some subset of the problems facing fusion development.

In terms of how, we aren't really actually sure how much He-3 there is, how to extract it, how to return it (or even if the reactors should be on lunar surface or in orbit and energy otherwise returned). And of course, there's always the possibility that there is other, unexpected mineral or otherwise wealth to be harvested. I'd expect some InSight like drilling operation with a goal of sample return rather seismic modeling. At least, if I were JAXA, that's what I'd do.

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  • $\begingroup$ Do you have any sources that JAXA will be looking for He-3? I heard a completely different explanation similar to this (but on the Moon, of course): spectrum.ieee.org/green-tech/solar/… Tho they likely culled most of such wild plans by now that people moved on from the Fukushima disaster. Kinda like Russians started talking of the need for planetary defense after the Chelyabinsk, and now barely anyone remembers any of it. $\endgroup$ – TildalWave Aug 8 '14 at 18:25
  • $\begingroup$ No source at all, just in my experience that's been the unspoken direction for lunar utilization. Orbital solar is always a considering, but just from a grammar perspective I've never considered that to be a lunar utilization. EDIT: There's also always the possibility of science bases, but that's (totally subjective) not the impression I've gotten from JAXA. $\endgroup$ – Calvin Aug 8 '14 at 18:29
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    $\begingroup$ He-3 might be interesting on the long run but for now, short of a handful of niche applications like in medical imaging actually doesn't have much use. There's plenty of He-3 on Earth itself even in the ocean floor sands that, while difficult to extract, would still be a whole lot simpler than going for it on the Moon. Problem is, how do you get a nuclear fusion reactor going in such a way that its net output is larger than your total input, including for He-3 extraction. Now, once we have ITER we might be a bit closer to it, but that's D-T (2nd gen) not 3rd gen He-3. $\endgroup$ – TildalWave Aug 8 '14 at 18:42
  • $\begingroup$ The great thing about fusion and lunar extraction is that both are limited exclusively by political capital to fund long-term optimal solutions. They'll likely develop at equivalent rates. $\endgroup$ – Calvin Aug 8 '14 at 19:39

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