Extraction Techniques for Minerals in Space

Mining on Earth
Mining in Space - General
Mining in Space - The Lunar regolith

Begin with a review of Mining on Earth

Requirements for a mine:

Extraction Methods:
Orebody shape is function of its mode of formation (and subsequent history):

Mining depends on:


Open Pit/ Quarry

Underground Operations

What is a major advantage of underground mining on the moon?

Here are some traditional underground methods:

[1] Shrinkage Stope method takes advantage of the fact that

[2] Cut and Fill: fill mined area with waste rock or cemented tailings

Both Shrinkage Stoping and Cut and Fill work well on vertical, tabular ores which are not likely to be found on the moon.

[3] Sublevel or Block Caving

[4] Mining either by advancing from or retreating to the point of access

[5] In-situ recovery: possible for oil shale (burn front)

[6] Heap Leaching as The Cheapest Way

Milling: Sizing and Separation: "bust it up and classify it"

 Lunar Sizing and Separation

Resource Recovery in Space

Unconsolidated material at the Surface: Ex: Lunar regolith

Before going any further consider weight, mass, inertia, friction, traction

Specific Lunar Examples: Ti, Fe, Al, Ca

Where do these elements come from on Earth?

Let's take a quick look at some slides from ore deposits on Earth that bear on this subject.

Now let's look at some of the figures from Lecture 22, not in the context of recovering oxygen but instead from the standpoint of 'the rest of the story'.

Asteroidal Mining:

Problems with automation or teleoperation

Possible solution to low gravity problems:

Extraterrestrial Mining Problems for Research:

  1. How should mechanical equipment be modified for operation in reduced gravity? (excavation, loading, moving)
  2. Remote and automated mining. What progress has been made on Earth?
  3. Environmental effects: extremes of heat and cold
  4. Applicability of terrestrial techniques to low gravity, no atmosphere situations.
  5. Rock drilling:
  6. Changes in traction and how to compensate:
  7. traction is function of gravity and friction
  8. Changing role of blasting in low gravity settings; vacuum will also affect blast
  9. Wear resistant materials
  10. Particle size reduction in low gravity settings


W. H. Dennen and B. Moore (1986) Geology and Engineering

W. H. Dennen (1989) Mineral Resources: Geology, Exploration, and Development