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What is the most attractive resource available to be extracted on the Moon?

By the most attractive I mean the most useful considering the location in which it's extracted and including all the related extraction and exploitation costs. For instance a resource that is only useful once brought back to earth should factor in all the costs related to shipping back to earth the material.

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First off almost all resource extraction in space is really only remotely close to cost effective if the resources themselves are used in space.

The general number thrown around is ~$10,000 per pound to low earth orbit, the price goes up if you want it further out. With the high costs even very high priced materials (diamonds, gold, helium isotopes or other unobtaniums) are not likely to generate a positive return considering the very high costs of delivering extraction equipment and returning the materials, but items that can be used in space will benefits in comparison because of these high launch costs when they are competing with the same materials launched from Earth.

Now with that out of the way, what can we get from the moon, that you would need in space.

  1. Water - Lunar water is very useful because it can be used directly by humans, but mosly because it can be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen and used for propulsion.

  2. Oxygen - The biggest makeup of lunar regolith is oxygen (present as oxidized minerals). This oxygen is very useful, not only for life support for humans, but again as an oxidizer for your rocket propulsion.

A Chart

  1. Other Structural Metals - If you want to construct anything sizable in space it gets very expensive to send all that material from Earth, at some point it would be less expensive to send the extraction and processing equipment to provide material from space to save on launch costs. Iron, Aluminum, Magnesium, or Calcium* are available in abundance on the moon.
    *Calcium is a very reactive metal not used on Earth due to its rapid oxidation, but it might be useful for constructions in a vacuum
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  • $\begingroup$ Nice answer. What about Helium-3? $\endgroup$ – Rexcirus Aug 10 '18 at 13:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Rexcirus Fusion Energy is still around 7 years out and although helium-3 is rare on Earth, there's lots of other fuels that a fusion reactor can use. For example, one approach uses helium-4 which can be generated by lining the walls of the reactor with lithium. By the time where we could use Moon helium-3 I'd expect other reactors to be so far ahead technology-wise that using it would be a step backwards. Also, mining it wouldn't be a walk in the park. You'd have to scrape the upper layer of regolith on the moon over vast swashes of land to collect even a tiny amount. $\endgroup$ – Dragongeek Aug 10 '18 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Rexcirus: We will be able to produce helium-3 at large scales by breeding excess tritium with D-T fusion long before we can actually burn helium-3 in a reactor to produce energy. For that matter, we can produce helium-3 now with fission reactors. And if you can do helium-3 fusion, you can do p-B11 fusion for the same benefits, but without the need for an exotic fuel. Spending the next couple centuries scouring the entire surface of the moon for fusion fuel is a pretty poorly thought out approach to providing Earth's energy needs. $\endgroup$ – Christopher James Huff Aug 12 '18 at 18:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Josh King: On the matter of calcium, note that per unit mass it's a better electrical conductor than copper: about double the resistivity, but less than 1/5th the density. Calcium wires would need to be thicker, but they'd be lighter. It just corrodes rapidly on exposure to air down here on Earth. $\endgroup$ – Christopher James Huff Aug 12 '18 at 18:49
  • $\begingroup$ @ChristopherJamesHuff Aluminum is better in conductivity per weight than copper and it may exposed to air. $\endgroup$ – Uwe Aug 25 at 11:54

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