China plans three lunar mining missions to discover more minerals
- A 2020 mission brought minerals back to China, leading to the discovery of a phosphate mineral now named Changesite-(Y).
- Earth’s phosphate helps plants grow, but the moon mineral’s columnar crystalline properties are not yet known.
- The three new Chinese missions to the Moon are planned over the next 10 years.
China is so excited about a new mineral it has found on the moon that it is wasting no time. The country’s National Space Administration plans to deploy three lunar orbiters over the next 10 years to potentially mine more of this lunar mineral.
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China’s Chang’e-5 mission in 2020 brought back what the country’s scientists announced was a new phosphate mineral in a columnar crystal, dubbed Changesite-(Y). The mineral contains helium-3, which offers a potential future energy source. It looks like China is keen to explore this connection further, both with the announcement of three new orbital trips and the Bloomberg report that China hopes to build an international research station based on the moon.
Discovering new minerals from the moon isn’t uncommon, but it’s not common. The United States and Russia (as the Soviet Union) together discovered five new minerals, but The addition of China to the group is the most recent. Separated from rock and soil samples and then analyzed at the Uranium Geology Research Institute in Beijing, Changesite-(Y) is unlike anything found on Earth.
Phosphate, which on Earth is essential for plant growth, has columnar crystal formations with unknown properties. Finding phosphate on the moon, where the mineral thrives, wasn’t surprising, but the columnar crystal shape was new to scientists. The discovery of this form of phosphate could have ramifications for future moon-based agriculture. The mineral also contains helium-3, which has already been identified as a possible future energy source, an intriguing prospect for scientists.
China Steps Up Moon Mining Efforts; the next mission, the Chang’e-7, will focus on searching for water near the moon’s south pole. It seems that the search for more minerals could go hand in hand with the effort to discover the benefits of Changesite-(Y).
Over the past few decades, China’s space-related plans have grown exponentially. Along with the Chang’e-5 mission which returned to China in late 2020, the nation built a space station and also landed its Zhurong rover on Mars. in 2021.
These space efforts are not done in collaboration with the United States but constitute another space race for Americans. The two countries have verbally argued over their national intentions, and recent seemingly successful efforts by the Chinese put NASA’s upcoming but delayed Artemis missions in a more direct spotlight.