Author Topic: Moon rocks/regolith as a profitable resource?  (Read 2075 times)

Online EnigmaSCADA

  • Member
  • Posts: 75
  • Earth
  • Liked: 72
  • Likes Given: 0
Moon rocks/regolith as a profitable resource?
« on: 06/13/2018 02:11 AM »
Most of what we talk about in terms of valuable resources extracted outside of Earth is lofty/far-off ideas of gathering tons of precious metals from asteroids or the necessities of space travel/existence (eg. rocket fuel & water).

But how much money could be made by simply sending a moon-excavator-buggy to the moon, digging up a few/10's/100's of tons, return them to Earth, and sell to the highest bidder? I'm sure there are plenty of people who would pay significant amounts to have a plain old moon rock on their desk or mantle. Other potential buyers, Universities/Sci Institutions. I don't think this would be sustainable beyond a certain amount as there's no intrinsic value beyond bragging rights, wealth signaling, and some basic research. But I also imagine it would take a not so insignificant amount to reach that saturation point where people would scoff at a moon pebble the way they do a penny on the sidewalk.

What do you think the actual market rate would be for a kilo of the moon were this to start happening at about a few tens of tons per year? Obviously there'd be plenty of scammers peddling dirty beach sand to suckers, but the point would be that you buy the real cheese from the company that went out there to fetch it, with a certificate of authenticity and all.

If this were simply a secondary reason to developing a lunar lander & excavator, don't you think it'd be worthwhile/profitable thing to attempt? I do, but I haven't gotten past the day dream stage of consideration so...caveat emptor.

PS: I'm thinking of this as a robotic mission, for the expediency.
« Last Edit: 06/13/2018 02:13 AM by EnigmaSCADA »

Online QuantumG

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 8653
  • Australia
  • Liked: 3586
  • Likes Given: 843
Re: Moon rocks/regolith as a profitable resource?
« Reply #1 on: 06/13/2018 02:45 AM »
There's probably single digit millions in it before the bottom falls out. Launch costs are falling, but it's still a big ask to do any lunar mission for that little, let alone a sample return mission.
I hear those things are awfully loud. It glides as softly as a cloud. What's it called? Monowhale!

Offline envy887

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4622
  • Liked: 2541
  • Likes Given: 1395
Re: Moon rocks/regolith as a profitable resource?
« Reply #2 on: 06/13/2018 11:00 PM »
There's probably single digit millions in it before the bottom falls out. Launch costs are falling, but it's still a big ask to do any lunar mission for that little, let alone a sample return mission.
Based on what? Is there a comparable market to use as a basis for an estimate?

How large would you say the market is for, oh, I don't know... Exorbitantly priced name brand propane torches, just as an example?

Offline speedevil

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2844
  • Fife
  • Liked: 1401
  • Likes Given: 1625
Re: Moon rocks/regolith as a profitable resource?
« Reply #3 on: 06/13/2018 11:29 PM »
It all depends on $.

If you look at the launch prices of BFR, and take the '$5M' as reasonable for example, spaceXs landing cost on earth for many tons of lunar material would be $250-1000 per kg. (for launching a filled BFS to the moon, offloading the fuel to a tanker in orbit, landing, loading moon rock, taking off, refilling, burning for earth).
At the price implied by P2P, more like $25-100/kg.

If you do lunar ISRU for oxygen only, you can perhaps drop that to $7-30/kg.
This is cheaper than some expensive decorative flooring, with some margin for profit.

At this price, the market could be quite large.
I would like a kilo moon rock, and would pay perhaps $500 for it.


Offline Archibald

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2557
  • Liked: 453
  • Likes Given: 1054
Re: Moon rocks/regolith as a profitable resource?
« Reply #4 on: 08/19/2018 06:50 AM »
That's the way Project Harvest Moon hoped to fund their very own, private Apollo mission in 1971. Or at least, buying a seat aboard a NASA Lunar Module, Space Adventures -style.

See that thread here > https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=46196.msg1848365#new
« Last Edit: 08/19/2018 06:51 AM by Archibald »
...you have been found guilty by the elders of the forum of a (imaginary) vendetta against Saint Elon - BLAAASPHEMER !

Offline oldAtlas_Eguy

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 3479
  • Florida
  • Liked: 1887
  • Likes Given: 223
Re: Moon rocks/regolith as a profitable resource?
« Reply #5 on: 08/19/2018 06:22 PM »
I like the idea but as in all commercial space ventures it is all about price of acc as to space.

Offline TripleSeven

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 682
  • Istanbul turkey
  • Liked: 294
  • Likes Given: 1238
Re: Moon rocks/regolith as a profitable resource?
« Reply #6 on: 08/19/2018 06:25 PM »
Most of what we talk about in terms of valuable resources extracted outside of Earth is lofty/far-off ideas of gathering tons of precious metals from asteroids or the necessities of space travel/existence (eg. rocket fuel & water).

But how much money could be made by simply sending a moon-excavator-buggy to the moon, digging up a few/10's/100's of tons, return them to Earth, and sell to the highest bidder? I'm sure there are plenty of people who would pay significant amounts to have a plain old moon rock on their desk or mantle. Other potential buyers, Universities/Sci Institutions. I don't think this would be sustainable beyond a certain amount as there's no intrinsic value beyond bragging rights, wealth signaling, and some basic research. But I also imagine it would take a not so insignificant amount to reach that saturation point where people would scoff at a moon pebble the way they do a penny on the sidewalk.

What do you think the actual market rate would be for a kilo of the moon were this to start happening at about a few tens of tons per year? Obviously there'd be plenty of scammers peddling dirty beach sand to suckers, but the point would be that you buy the real cheese from the company that went out there to fetch it, with a certificate of authenticity and all.

If this were simply a secondary reason to developing a lunar lander & excavator, don't you think it'd be worthwhile/profitable thing to attempt? I do, but I haven't gotten past the day dream stage of consideration so...caveat emptor.

PS: I'm thinking of this as a robotic mission, for the expediency.

under 10 million but probably over 1 million

not enough

Offline TripleSeven

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 682
  • Istanbul turkey
  • Liked: 294
  • Likes Given: 1238
Re: Moon rocks/regolith as a profitable resource?
« Reply #7 on: 08/19/2018 06:29 PM »
That's the way Project Harvest Moon hoped to fund their very own, private Apollo mission in 1971. Or at least, buying a seat aboard a NASA Lunar Module, Space Adventures -style.

See that thread here > https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=46196.msg1848365#new

learn something new everyday...had never heard of that

Offline Lunadyne

  • Member
  • Posts: 28
  • EML-1. the crossroads of cislunar space
  • Liked: 22
  • Likes Given: 0
Re: Moon rocks/regolith as a profitable resource?
« Reply #8 on: 08/19/2018 07:08 PM »
Judging from the rhetorical tone in the initial post the author isn't really down on the whole Moon rock thing, even claiming there's no intrinsic value in it, which is incorrect.  This is understandable given that there has not been broad dissemination of information about Moon rocks, even within the space community.

The first thing to consider is what the stuff is made of.  My favorite reference in that regard is Judith Frondel's "Lunar Mineralogy" from the 70s, which aggregated the results of the initial rounds of examination of the Moon rocks.  More comprehensive details can be found in Grant & Heiken's "Lunar Sourcebook" from the early 90s.  Refinements have been made since then, but progress in Selenology tends be rather slow given overall focus elsewhere.

From an economic perspective, it helps to look at the concept of value-added.  Shipping raw regolith back to Earth represents de minimis value-added (and, by extension, CoGS).  But you have to also consider the overall supply context.  Going to the Moon just to ship back regolith probably doesn't make much sense as the whole cost of the supply chain goes into the Cost of Goods Sold.

However, if you have an established supply chain, say for processing of regolith to extract oxygen and other goodies as well as in support of scientific work on the Moon, then you are likely to have empty or mostly empty supply vehicles deadheading back down the well to LEO.  In this case there would be an opportunity to fill some of that empty space for a marginal cost.  So as something that happens once there is more value-added activity on the Moon, yeah it can make sense.  As a stand-alone activity you're probably going to have a much harder time making a case for it, although a case can be made when the right factors come together.

So what are you going to do with this raw regolith (and rocks) you're bringing back to Earth?  That's where the fun begins, as there are all kinds of value-added opportunities:
-Fertilizer for exotic gardens.  This market is identified as a result of the work done by Dr. Walkinshaw and others back in the 70s to determine if anything in the Lunar samples was toxic to Earth life.  The plants seemed to love it, so research was stopped.  The hypothesis for why the plants loved it is that there is a strong distribution of trace elements in the regolith delivered over the aeons by impactors.  Trace elements that have largely been farmed out of terrestrial industrial farmland and soils over the centuries/millennia.  So one market I would target would be rich Japanese industrialists who want the Moon soil for their gardens and Bonsai trees.
-Jewelry.  Yeah, everyone talks about cufflinks and earrings, but this is the 21st century.  Imagine if you will a thin-section of a breccia mounted over a rotating polarized LED as a pendant nestled in the cleft of a lovely bosom.  The constantly shifting colors would be entrancing.  As would be the bosom.  So, huge potential market there.
-Vacuum 'snow' globes.  Just as the women want their exclusives that no one else has, so do the men.  This market would be addressed by one that would already have developed with the cislunar econosphere: vacuum spheres.  These would be glass spheres created in the vacuum of space and then brought back to Earth to be sold in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog to investment bankers with more bonus than sense so they can have a bit of outer space on their desk (this is, after all, the 21st century).  A natural extension of that market would be to have 'snow' globes of vacuum spheres with a quantity of Lunar regolith inside.  Shake it up and the dust immediately falls to the bottom of the sphere at 9.2 m/s, so basically instantly.  Yes, I am talking about the space equivalent of pet rocks, but it could also serve as an educational tool with huge market potential.

So there's a few weird potential markets for Moon dirt.  If the trace element hypothesis noted above holds true, then you may see demand for its use as a fertilizer additive and soil bulking agent.  In which case you'll be shipping it to Earth by the tonne.  Tens of tonnes, maybe hundreds or thousands.  The fundamental point is that you can't really predict how people are going to use something once it available in the market.  For instance, given that Mars soil is thought to be fairly toxic, it may be that raw Lunar regolith gets shipped to Mars to be used in greenhouses there.

Going back to the Moon-based value-added chain, the first thing you're going to do with it is give it a 'shake-n-bake' at about 800 Celsius to drive off the SWIEs, about ten atmosphere's worth per cubic meter as estimated in the Lunar Sourcebook.  This can then be separated cheaply using the secret Lunadyne process and supplied to their relevant markets.  This is where that Helium-3 that everyone keeps yammering on about is going to come from in trace quantities.

Once the SWIEs are out, you can process it for oxygen (about 40-45% of the Moon by mass, locked up in the rocks), for which many schemes have been proposed.  There are lots of metals in both the highland and mare materials, so you can melt those out.  The slag can be used to create heat shields that can be shipped to LEO and bolted onto Earth-returning spacecraft, or could be shaped into lifting bodies for the delivery of cargo all the way to Earth's surface.  Sintering is always an option, so bricks and stuff.  My favorite is to just throw it all in the 10,000+ degree Solar furnace to just shred it and then electrolytically sort things out.

Once you've got the metals separated out you can start looking at value-added options like extruded forms for construction and other engineering work.  All the constituent elements of cheap solar cells can be found in the regolith in abundance, so robotic production of cheap solar cells may quickly become an industry.  There's a fair amount of chromium, so all the Lunar rovers can have really shiny bumpers and hubcaps.

Really, once you start getting into the weeds, the possible uses for Moon rocks/regolith are fairly limitless.  The real question then is how do you want to capture that value and deliver it to the markets you've identified at a price that makes it profitable to do so?

I'd like to end this note with a cautionary parable I remember from my early days studying international business and economics.  A shoe company was looking to expand their international market presence, so they had an analyst look at the African market.  The analyst crunched the numbers in government and UN reports, as well as other sources available to the analyst community, even did a due diligence trip before concluding in their report that no one in Africa wore shoes, there wasn't a culture of doing so, and therefore any market opportunity was quite limited and likely not worth the effort.

The shoe company also sent a salesperson to scout out potential distributors and take a look at the potential market.  About a week later the salesperson excitedly telegrammed back to headquarters something along the lines of "OMG! Like totally NO ONE here wears shoes.  PLS start shipments ASAP.  Unlimited market opportunity.  OMG I am going to make such a commission off of this!!!"

Both were correct in their own way.

Offline Archibald

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2557
  • Liked: 453
  • Likes Given: 1054
Re: Moon rocks/regolith as a profitable resource?
« Reply #9 on: 08/20/2018 11:02 AM »
There is a very basic thing I never quite understood with the Outer Space Treaty - and the Apollo samples.

Let's suppose I build a rocket, land on the Moon, collect 1 kg of regolith, return Earth. Then I start selling those Moon rocks. 10 g packages, that would be a hundred of them.
What do I risk ? Does the OST will punish me ? or someone else ?
How much money could be make by selling 1 kg of moon rocks ?
« Last Edit: 08/20/2018 11:03 AM by Archibald »
...you have been found guilty by the elders of the forum of a (imaginary) vendetta against Saint Elon - BLAAASPHEMER !

Offline A_M_Swallow

  • Elite Veteran
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 8479
  • South coast of England
  • Liked: 349
  • Likes Given: 147
Re: Moon rocks/regolith as a profitable resource?
« Reply #10 on: 08/20/2018 12:30 PM »
There is a very basic thing I never quite understood with the Outer Space Treaty - and the Apollo samples.

Let's suppose I build a rocket, land on the Moon, collect 1 kg of regolith, return Earth. Then I start selling those Moon rocks. 10 g packages, that would be a hundred of them.
What do I risk ? Does the OST will punish me ? or someone else ?
How much money could be make by selling 1 kg of moon rocks ?

Treaties work at the government to government level. Punishing you is the job of your government. Governments are allowed to formally permit people 9and companies) to perform commercial activities in space providing the United Nations is informed.

Offline DougSpace

  • Member
  • Posts: 49
  • Liked: 14
  • Likes Given: 0
Re: Moon rocks/regolith as a profitable resource?
« Reply #11 on: 08/28/2018 05:38 AM »
OK, let me take a swing at this lunar jewelry thing since thereís a lot more that could be said about it.

First, realize that lunar jewelry is being considered as an initial, major revenue stream by one of the lunar lander companies that will likely be among the first:

https://instoremag.com/fun-stuff/23022-jewelry-made-from-moon-rocks-it-could-happen

Then, consider a cubic meter lunar rock brought back to Earth.  First, cut it up into centimeter cubes.  Thatís 100 x 100 x 100 = a million pieces.  Then cut those into five pieces each so thatís 5 million pieces about the right size for various types of jewelry.  At 7.5 billion people on Earth, that means that only one person in 1,500 would own a piece of the Moon.  Thatís probably rarer than diamonds.

The average engagement ring is about a carat which sells for about $3,000.  So, being conservative, if the rarer but not as spectacular piece of the Moon sold for $300 a piece then that cubic meter of lunar rock would generate $1.5 B.  So, itís a business concept thatís worth considering.

Offline envy887

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4622
  • Liked: 2541
  • Likes Given: 1395
Re: Moon rocks/regolith as a profitable resource?
« Reply #12 on: 08/28/2018 03:37 PM »
OK, let me take a swing at this lunar jewelry thing since thereís a lot more that could be said about it.

First, realize that lunar jewelry is being considered as an initial, major revenue stream by one of the lunar lander companies that will likely be among the first:

https://instoremag.com/fun-stuff/23022-jewelry-made-from-moon-rocks-it-could-happen

Then, consider a cubic meter lunar rock brought back to Earth.  First, cut it up into centimeter cubes.  Thatís 100 x 100 x 100 = a million pieces.  Then cut those into five pieces each so thatís 5 million pieces about the right size for various types of jewelry.  At 7.5 billion people on Earth, that means that only one person in 1,500 would own a piece of the Moon.  Thatís probably rarer than diamonds.

The average engagement ring is about a carat which sells for about $3,000.  So, being conservative, if the rarer but not as spectacular piece of the Moon sold for $300 a piece then that cubic meter of lunar rock would generate $1.5 B.  So, itís a business concept thatís worth considering.

A cubic meter of lunar regolith would mass around 4x as much as the all the samples the whole Apollo program returned at a program cost of ~$130 billion.

You'd need a much more efficient method for returning these samples than anything yet demonstrated.

Offline ChrisWilson68

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 3742
  • Sunnyvale, CA
  • Liked: 2353
  • Likes Given: 3035
Re: Moon rocks/regolith as a profitable resource?
« Reply #13 on: 08/28/2018 05:47 PM »
OK, let me take a swing at this lunar jewelry thing since thereís a lot more that could be said about it.

First, realize that lunar jewelry is being considered as an initial, major revenue stream by one of the lunar lander companies that will likely be among the first:

https://instoremag.com/fun-stuff/23022-jewelry-made-from-moon-rocks-it-could-happen

Then, consider a cubic meter lunar rock brought back to Earth.  First, cut it up into centimeter cubes.  Thatís 100 x 100 x 100 = a million pieces.  Then cut those into five pieces each so thatís 5 million pieces about the right size for various types of jewelry.  At 7.5 billion people on Earth, that means that only one person in 1,500 would own a piece of the Moon.  Thatís probably rarer than diamonds.

The average engagement ring is about a carat which sells for about $3,000.  So, being conservative, if the rarer but not as spectacular piece of the Moon sold for $300 a piece then that cubic meter of lunar rock would generate $1.5 B.  So, itís a business concept thatís worth considering.

Getting five million people to buy something for $300 each is not "being conservative".

Nobody really knows what the mass market for large amounts of moon rocks would be.

Diamonds have a lot of tradition behind them, and they are sparkly.  Moon rocks just look like ordinary rocks.  It's not clear that five million women would prefer to wear something that looks like a rock you could pick up on the ground instead of something that looks like a diamond.

Rather than looking at diamonds, I think a better analogue would be to look at the market for meteorites.  They have a similar appeal to moon rocks, in that they look like rocks but they're from space.

People do sell meteorite jewelry.  But it's a very small, niche market.

The best I could do on the size of the market for meteorites is this:

"The size of the entire market for meteorites, he says, is hard to estimate; but it's tiny in comparison, say, to the market for stamp-collecting."

https://abcnews.go.com/Business/meteorites-risky-investments-space/story?id=18532104

Offline envy887

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4622
  • Liked: 2541
  • Likes Given: 1395
Re: Moon rocks/regolith as a profitable resource?
« Reply #14 on: 08/28/2018 06:05 PM »
OK, let me take a swing at this lunar jewelry thing since thereís a lot more that could be said about it.

First, realize that lunar jewelry is being considered as an initial, major revenue stream by one of the lunar lander companies that will likely be among the first:

https://instoremag.com/fun-stuff/23022-jewelry-made-from-moon-rocks-it-could-happen

Then, consider a cubic meter lunar rock brought back to Earth.  First, cut it up into centimeter cubes.  Thatís 100 x 100 x 100 = a million pieces.  Then cut those into five pieces each so thatís 5 million pieces about the right size for various types of jewelry.  At 7.5 billion people on Earth, that means that only one person in 1,500 would own a piece of the Moon.  Thatís probably rarer than diamonds.

The average engagement ring is about a carat which sells for about $3,000.  So, being conservative, if the rarer but not as spectacular piece of the Moon sold for $300 a piece then that cubic meter of lunar rock would generate $1.5 B.  So, itís a business concept thatís worth considering.

Getting five million people to buy something for $300 each is not "being conservative".

Nobody really knows what the mass market for large amounts of moon rocks would be.

Diamonds have a lot of tradition behind them, and they are sparkly.  Moon rocks just look like ordinary rocks.  It's not clear that five million women would prefer to wear something that looks like a rock you could pick up on the ground instead of something that looks like a diamond.

Rather than looking at diamonds, I think a better analogue would be to look at the market for meteorites.  They have a similar appeal to moon rocks, in that they look like rocks but they're from space.

People do sell meteorite jewelry.  But it's a very small, niche market.

The best I could do on the size of the market for meteorites is this:

"The size of the entire market for meteorites, he says, is hard to estimate; but it's tiny in comparison, say, to the market for stamp-collecting."

https://abcnews.go.com/Business/meteorites-risky-investments-space/story?id=18532104

So what you're saying is that we need to find the sparkly moonrocks?

Offline ChrisWilson68

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 3742
  • Sunnyvale, CA
  • Liked: 2353
  • Likes Given: 3035
Re: Moon rocks/regolith as a profitable resource?
« Reply #15 on: 08/28/2018 06:35 PM »
So what you're saying is that we need to find the sparkly moonrocks?

That would help!

Tags: