Two classes of sites have been proposed for nonterrestrial resource development. For the LOX-to-LEO project, both the Moon and asteroids could be sources of oxygen; asteroids might provide different byproducts than the Moon would.
Apollo data show that ilmenite concentrations in basalts range from 3 to 20 percent at the investigated lunar mare sites. An Apollo site such as Apollo 11 or Apollo 17 is thus considered a prospect. The major problem with this statement is that the rest of the Moon might be ignored in favor of a few sites selected at the time of the Apollo Program. We don't know what we might be missing. One possible approach would be to buifd the Apollo-site mine and use it as a base to find prospects for other ilmenite mines or more ambitious mining projects. Another approach would be to complete a well- conceived exploration program before selecting a mine site. While far more expensive, this approach could yield better long-term results.
The asteroids are more problematical. No good compositional data have been obtained for appropriate Earth- approaching asteroids. While the probability is good that a favorable body exists, at present there is no asteroid" prospect" identifiable by terrestrial rules. Earth- or orbit- based asteroid watches may find promising bodies, but these bodies cannot be considered mining prospects until they have been physically sampled. Space mining is too risky and expensive to fly an asteroid retrieval mission solely on the basis of spectral and statistical data.
While we strongly support additional remote sensing missions
such as the Lunar Observer* and asteroid watches as means to continue the exploration
of nonterrestrial resource development, we doubt these programs will locate specific ore bodies. Terrestrial remote sensing programs rarely find mining prospects but have better success at locating areas of promise. Remote sensing from space has a relatively coarse resolution at mining scales and the interpretation of the resulting data consequently leaves many unknowns. It appears that these investigations will continue to be driven primarily by science considerations. But the instrument packages for space flights and the telescopes for asteroid search programs should
be given close scrutiny as to data requirements and sensor resolution for mining purposes.
. The Lunar Observer is to be a lunar polar orbiter equipped to obtain geochemical data.
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WebWork: Al Globus, Bryan Yager, and Tugrul Sezen