Russia plans resuming moon exploration as early as in 2016, with the first spacecraft leaving in 2018 and a manned mission scheduled for 2030. The ultimate purpose? Exploring the Earth’s satellite for rare earth elements, used in a variety of industries including green technology, defence systems and consumer electronics.
The Russian Academy of Sciences, the Moscow State University Sternberg Astronomical Institute and the Russian Federal Space Agency are some of the big names behind the $2.5 billion out-of-this-world exploration project, unveiled in August.
According to Russia Beyond the Headlines (RBTH), the Luna-25 mission will focus on retrieving comets fragments back to the Earth, which could result in a huge breakthrough, as the chemical composition of those celestial bodies remains a mystery to scientists.
The Sternberg Institute’s Head of the Department of Lunar and Planetary Research, Vladislav Shevchenko, told RBTH he believes the lunar surface is rich on rare earth metals. He sees moon exploration as a solution to the current shortage of rare earth metals, whose production is controlled by China, and trusts deliveries from space being potentially more cost-effective than mining for metals at home.
Working down here
But just in case the lunar plans don’t go as expected, the Urals are getting ready to launch rare earth production by 2017, using new technology to extract the coveted elements from uranium ore.
To promote this development, RBTH reported in September, the government will allocate $7.8 million (300 million rubles) to the Ural Federal University and another $9.3 million (360 million rubles) will be financed by Moscow-based company CJSC Energy Projects, the university’s partner.
With Russia entering the rare earth race, China — which once controlled 97% of the world’s trade of these elements— is set to lose its dominance in the market.
China Minmetals, itself a state-owned company, recently said that the country’s rare earths market share could drop to 65 %.
A recent paper by Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) says China’s shrinking market share is already happening.
In addition, for something with the namesake “rare”, many countries have domestic supplies of rare earth minerals as the paper’s author Eugene Gholz outlines. The United States, South Africa, Brazil, Chad, Congo, India and Kenya all have plentiful supplies domestically. But until China restricted its supply it wasn’t as economical to source from these countries because of the country’s economy of scale.
Russia plans returning to the moon as early as in 2016, with the first
spacecraft leaving in 2018…. just how does that work? How do they arrive 2 years before they leave? Fire the editor!
Elementary my dear Watson, Russia has kept it quiet, but now their secret is revealed.
Moon’s a big place. Just how detailed is their lunar geological map? How do you narrow the focus of exploration when your field is basically Basalt (the black stuff we see from Earth), and Anorthosite (the white parts)? Do they have any reason at all to expect carbonatites and other alkaline bodies that host profitable REE targets?
Southern Africa is relatively well endowed with REE’s, but the biggest problem is probably the lack of a developed infrastructure and then there is always the political agenda of groups or is it individuals and the power struggle. Have you ever driven unknowingly through an uncleared minefield in Mozambique, not a nice feeling. The basic business concepts will apply; demand, supply, price and costs, but the Russians, do they have a sense for business principles or is it security of supply at all cost?
The Real John Smith
Can we really refer to them as rare “earth” metals at that point….
Like asteroid mining…mining on the moon and Mars should be left to the movie makers.
Seriously?! The country that can’t build a pipeline that doesn’t leak more oil than Canada produces is going to fly to the moon and mine it..?
No. It. Won’t.
And where is Australia with Lynas and its Mt.Weld deposit and Malaysian plant. This company is currently struggling because LOW prices of “rare earths”.
Aware of Earth
What would be the impact of lunar mining on the Earth ecosystem ? As you all know Moon is making the sea tide, and so much more !
All this for just $2.5 B! One rocket to the ISS (low-earth orbit) is about 10% of their budget
This is BS due to economic crisis in Russian Ruble now and Putin’s claims to protect russian citizens no matter where they live, Ukraine,Estonia,etc. We all trust Mr. Putins word; such as we have no desires in Crimea, we have no troops in Ukraine , there are no Russians living on the moon, so why come up with this absurd venture! To keep your eye off the ball ($$$$$) crisis and more VODKA!!!
They better figure out how to distill vodka along the way, or Captain Cosmo and team will never make it.
We had better send up a ‘Staking’ crew to stake our claims before the Russians claim they own all the Mineral Rights!!!!!!!!!!!
China is just a cheap, operating source…Rare Earths aren’t that rare
There is still stuff yet to be documented