What exactly is helium 3 and how is it created?
Normal helium has 2 protons and 2 neutrons in its nucleus, giving it an
atomic weight of 4. Now, if you kick out one of neutrons, you get
helium-3. This happens once in a while in very energetic nuclear reactors,
especially the sun. The sun produces helium by fusing hydrogen atoms
together, but about one in every ten thousand helium atoms comes out
missing a neutron. With fussion, we pay no attention to electrons.
To create energy we would then have to react the helium 3 with
deuterium, an isotope also of helium with only 1 proton and 1 neutron. The
deuterium and helium-3 atoms come together to give off a proton and
helium-4. The products weigh less than the initial components; the missing
mass is converted to energy. 1 kg of helium-3 burned with 0.67 kg of
deuterium gives us about 19 megawatt-years of energy output. Also, no
radiation would result from using it, and even better, no pollution.
How do we get the Helium 3 in the first place?
Since only about one in every ten thousand helium atoms turn into
helium 3, making it would be costly. Some He3 is already available on Earth.
It is a by-product of the maintenance of nuclear weapons, which would
supply us with about 300 kg of He3 and could continue to produce about
15 kg per year. The total supply in the U.S. strategic reserves of
helium is about 29 kg, and another 187 kg is mixed up with the natural gas
we have stored; these sources are not renewable at any significant rate.
Apollo astronauts found helium 3 on the moon in 1969, but the link
between the isotope and lunar resources was not made until 1986 (on a side note, this helps prove that we did land on the moon). There is
an estimated total of 1,100,000 metric tons of He3 that have been
deposited by the solar wind in the lunar regolith. When the solar wind, the
rapid stream of charged particles emitted by the sun, strikes the moon,
helium 3 is deposited in the powdery soil. Over billions of years that
adds up. Meteorite bombardment disperses the particles throughout the
top several meters of the lunar surface. Since the regolith has been
stirred up by collisions with meteorites, we’ll probably find He3 down to
depths of several meters. That means that we will have to do some
mining on the moon.
The highest concentrations are in the lunar maria; about half the He3
is deposited in the 20% of the lunar surface covered by the maria.
To extract He3 from the lunar soil, we heat the dust to about 600
degrees C. Oxygen on the other hand needs to be heated to 900 degrees C for
What does this mean to us?
Basically about 25 tons of helium 3 can power the United States for a
year which a spaceship could easily carry back to Earth. With these 25
tons, we can replace all fuels that we pay for essentially that could
make the helium 3 worth about $3 billion per ton.
Not only would helium 3 be able to power the Earth, but spaceships far
better than any current method known to man. Since helium 3 is
non-radioactive and a small amount can produce large amounts of power. Space
travel is more feasible and cost effective bringing down the cost of
producing storage for the fuel and shielding for possible radiation caused
from other methods. By the time the helium 3 ran out, we should be able
to create enough ourselves, find more on another planet or asteroid, or
even find a different and even possibly a better fuel.
What may be the problems?
Basically money, everyone wants it and so the first country to the moon
will be the first to have a chance of making a big profit. This may
bring us into war with other countries but I believe the war would be
verbal and nothing else. Among the countries that are planning travel to
the moon for extraction of the substance are the United States, Russia,
Germany, China, and India.
What plans are being made?
NASA announced in December that it was planning to build an
international base camp on one of the Moon’s poles, permanently staffing it by
2024. Russia’s space rocket manufacturer Energia revealed an even more
ambitious program last August, saying it would build a permanent Moon base
by 2015. Though this will take time, I believe that it will happen and
would like to be a part of it. The race is on.
Some of what I used can be found at the following addresses along with possible explanations of where my information came from.