Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The New Space Race - the Helium 3 Rush?

There's a new space race brewing. The target is once again the moon, but this time the race is not between two governments, it's between governments and the private sector.

The Bush administration has set a goal for returning a man to the moon by 2020. Estimated cost to the taxpayer - $100,000,000,000.

Gerald Kulcinski, a professor who leads the Fusion Technology Institute at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Hagan "Jack" Schmitt, also have a goal of getting to the moon by 2020, to mine it for Helium 3. They want to form a company to accomplish the task. Cost to taxpayer of private sector venture - $0.00.

Fusion is the holy grail of the energy industry. It's the process that fuels the sun. Unlike fission, fusion is when molecules are forced together, releasing tremendous amounts of energy. Hydrogen has been the fuel of choice to this point, but it has some major drawbacks. The chief obstacle is that it releases a lot of nuetron radiation, which degrades the reactor. Helium 3 can produce similar amounts of energy without all those nuetrons. The Earth has very little Helium 3. The moon has plenty. Helium 3 is deposited on the moon via the solar wind. The solar wind is diverted around the Earth by its atmosphere "No Helium 3 For You!". It's estimated that Helium 3 could yield around $4 billion/ton. Enough to fuel a new lunar "gold rush".

This new incentive for private sector ventures into space will bring up some very important issues. How does one establish ownership of land in space? If you were to go to the moon, declare it a country, and set up a government, who would have to approve it? Who would nix it?

One thing's for sure. We'll be better off if the private sector wins this race. To all you "richer than God" entrepreneurs out there, before you consider another remake of the Taj Mahal on your back 40, think about investing in the new West. (I'm looking at you Ellison.)

The market is smarter than any committee, I don't care how many elites are on it. The best way to destroy innovation in any industry is to give government control over it. When's the last time you got excited about a blockbuster new product from the post office?

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