Rare Gas Sets Off a Lunar Rush

Startup Interlune plans to mine the moon for helium-3, estimated to be worth $4 billion per ton
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 23, 2024 7:30 AM CDT
The Lunar Rush Is On, With Plans to Mine Helium-3
A plane passes in front of the full moon, as seen from Arlington, Texas.   (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Like many private companies, Interlune is seeing dollar signs in the night sky—and now its plans to extract a rare gas from the moon has a timeline. Per Ars Technica, there's an abundance of helium-3 that can hypothetically be extracted from the moon and transported back home, and while entrepreneurs have dreamed of mining it for some time, Interlune set out a plan.

  • What is helium-3? It's a helium isotope that fuses in our sun and spreads through space via solar winds. Although it collects on the moon, Earth's magnetic field prevents helium-3 from entering the atmosphere, though trace amounts of it can be found here from tritium decay in nuclear activity from reactors and weapons tests.
  • Big bucks: Ars Technica estimates a single liter of helium-3 costs a few thousand dollars. "Helium-3 on the moon is worth $4 billion per ton," Gerald Kulcinski of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Fusion Technology Institute told WBUR. "It's the most valuable thing in space." Uses for the gas include the superconducting industry and medical imaging, and it could also become a source of energy.
  • The plan: Interlune plans to hop on a 2026 NASA mission for research, then build a pilot plant by 2028. The company estimates that by 2030, it will begin shipping helium-3 back to Earth. But Interlune isn't alone. Interesting Engineering reports that NASA intends to begin mining on the moon by 2032.
  • Two takes: Ars Technica likens the lunar rush to "a California gold rush without the gold." Over at the New York Times, Our Moon author Rebecca Boyle calls for "thoughtful consideration" in how humans interact with our mostly untouched celestial neighbor. Meanwhile, Homer Hickam declares, "Let the moon rush begin" in the Washington Post, where he details how exactly the US should set up mining outposts to extract valuable resources for profit there.
(More moon stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.