Helium-3: The secret ‘mining war’ in space

We’ve all heard of the arms race, the space race, and even the peace race.

But there’s one race that’s completely off the general public’s radar: who will be the first to mine Helium-3 in space in significant quantities in order to try to develop nuclear fusion reactors that do not create hazardous nuclear waste and other pollutants.

“Outer space holds virtually limitless amounts of energy and raw materials, from Helium-3 fuel on the Moon for clean fusion reactors to heavy metals and volatile gases from asteroids, which can be harvested for use on Earth and in space,” says former CIA space analyst Tim Chrisman.

“China will almost certainly use any resources it is able to acquire to the detriment of its adversaries, competitors and bystanders alike,” Chrisman told the Jerusalem Post, in an interview.

Chrisman also served in army intelligence and is a co-founder of Foundation for the Future, a scientific education and public works advocacy group dedicated to creating infrastructure to be able to live and work in space.

Beijing is charging forward toward potential revolutions in extracting energy in space and mining space materials and could leave the US behind, Chrisman said.

China has an upfront advantage because its military and economic components are virtually inseparable.

America faces a greater challenge rallying and uniting different aspects of national power to pursue a single challenging long-term mission.

“Getting there first may be more like launching the first satellite – like the Russia and US space races,” he said of the race for Helium-3.

“It would be a big political and diplomatic win. A lot depends on how that can be exploited on the back end, if it is able to be rapidly used for power and energy or brought back to Earth en masse reliably. It opens up possibilities for dramatic changes.”

Scientists say two fully-loaded Space Shuttle cargo bay’s worth of Helium-3 — about 40 tonnes worth of the gas — could power the United States for a year at the current rate of energy consumption.

Professor Ouyang Ziyuan, the chief scientist of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program, recently said, the moon is “so rich” in Helium-3, that this could “solve humanity’s energy demand for around 10,000 years at least.” 

Several major institutions in China are now studying rocks collected from the Moon by the Chang’e 5 mission for research that includes evaluating the material as a potential source of fusion power.