Thursday , 21 March 2019

The Dawn Of Lunar Hydropolitics

Nandkumar Kamat

Lunar hydropolitics can be defined as exoterrestrial politics by state parties or countries and private/business entities from our planet involving legal, technical, economic aspects of exploiting hydrolayer of lunar regolith and possible sublunar hydroresources.

We see the dawn of lunar hydropolitics with these latest reports by Li, S, et al. “Direct Detections of Surface Exposed Water Ice in the Lunar Polar Regions.” LPI Contributions 2087 (2018) which mentions contributions of India’s Moon Minerology Mapper (M3) on Chandrayaan-1 mission but surprisingly has no Indian author. Li and his team utilised indirect lighting in regions of permanent shadow to report the detection of diagnostic near-infrared absorption features of water ice in reflectance spectra acquired by the Moon Mineralogy Mapper M3 instrument.

They identified several thousand M3 pixels (about 280 by 280 m) with signatures of water ice at the optical surface (depth of less than a few millimeters) within 20 degree latitude of both poles, including locations where independent measurements have suggested that water ice may be present. They found that “most ice locations detected in M3 data also exhibit lunar orbiter laser altimeter reflectance values and Lyman Alpha Mapping Project instrument UV ratio values consistent with the presence of water ice and also exhibit annual maximum temperatures below 110 K.” Within three weeks of publication of this paper the world has started discussing political implications of the finding.

To get an idea of what it means to detect water on Moon, this paper needs to be read with Pieters CM, et al. (2009) Character and spatial distribution of OH/H2O on the surface of the Moon seen by M3 on Chandrayaan-1. Science 326:568–572 and Li S, Milliken RE (2017) Water on the surface of the Moon as seen by the Moon Mineralogy Mapper: Distribution, abundance, and origins. Sci Adv 3:e1701471. If Outer space treaty 1967 is violated then the next wars could be fought in space and possibly on the Moon for its resources. Competition to the Moon is heating up.

NASA is racing ahead with nanosatellites Lunar Flashlight and Lunar Icecube in 2020 to explore water ice deposits. China has planned Chang’e 4 and 5 missions during 2018 and 19. India’s postponed Chanrayaan-2 mission may be launched in January 2019. German’s Alina and USA’s Lunar Scout would explore Moon during 2019. Not less than 18 unmanned missions have been planned till 2021 by USA, Russia, Japan and China. Even a tiny country like Israel is ambitious about Moon. On 13 February 2019 Israel’s “Sparrow” mission lander would unfurl the Israeli national flag and measure local magnetism. Crawford, Ian A in his “Lunar resources: A review.”

Progress in Physical Geography 39.2 (2015): 137-167 has cautioned that “ the development of lunar (and other extraterrestrial ) resources will require the establishment of an international legal regime which encourages large scale investment in prospecting and extraction activities, while at the same time ensuring that space does not become  a possible flashpoint for  international conflict”. It’s astonishing to find how ancient civilisations had identified Moon with waters. Jules Cashford in his The Moon, Myth and Image (2003) has devoted a full chapter to describe how ancient Sumerian, Greeks, Egyptians, Indians and even the bushmen of Africa, indigenous people of Brazil and British Columbia associated Moon with water.

I have most of the important research papers and books on Moon (Bhandari, 2006, Exploration and utilization of the Moon, Chandralok, 2008 by Mohan Apte in Marathi) in my collection and reason for acquiring these were my prediction about several countries fighting over the resources of the Moon – mainly rare earth elements, Helium three and now water. These references show that Clementine mission study group had estimated water near lunar south pole in 15500 sq kms area weighing 100 to 1000 million MT. Lunar prospector study group had estimated 10 to 300 million MT water near both the lunar poles. Jim Arnold of California University was optimistic about 11 to 110 billion MT water at depth of two meters near both lunar poles.

Louis Friedman of Planetary Society estimated 0.3 to one per cent water in lunar regolith. In March 2010, it was claimed that Mini-SAR on board Chandrayaan-1 had discovered more than 40 permanently darkened craters near the Moon’s north pole with a speculative estimate of 600 million MT of water. In January 2018 Paul Spudis arrived at a figure of 100 million to one billion MT of water present at each pole.

Those who were planning manned colonies on Moon calculated that without recycling 330 million MT of water would be required to support 2000 humans for a century. Article I of The January 1967 UN Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies says “the exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all mankind” and article IV says “The moon and other celestial bodies shall be used by all States Parties to the Treaty exclusively for peaceful purposes.” However, this 51 years old treaty may in future need some changes to control lunar hydropolitics. Countries like India need to take lead for that.

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