Wednesday, October 22, 2008
CHANDRAYAAN 1 : QUEST FOR HELIUM 3
ISRO - Thank you for the flawless launch, our mission to moon and beyond begins.
22nd OCTOBER 2008 - 06:22 hrs: Chandrayaan 1, India’s maiden lunar mission blasted off from Sriharikota perfectly. Chandrayaan-I is carrying an Indian flag which will be placed on the lunar surface when the Moon Impactor Probe lands on the moon during the course of the two-year mission.
Amongst its various uses, two most important are :
1) paving way for Chandrayaan 2, 3 …. Essentially manned moon missions and then setting up a base in moon for further probe to Mars
2) Accessing Helium 3
Helium-3 is considered a safe, environmentally friendly fuel and while it is scarce on Earth it is plentiful on the moon. As a result, scientists have begun to consider the practicality of mining lunar Helium-3 as a replacement for fossil fuels.
NASA plans to have a permanent moon base by 2024, but America is not the only nation with plans for a moon base. China, India, the European Space Agency, and at least one Russian corporation, Energia, have visions of building manned lunar bases post-2020. Mining the moon for helium-3 has been discussed widely in space circles and international space conferences.
Leading Chinese scientist Ouyang Ziyuan was quoted by Southern Metropolis News as saying, “China will make a a manned moon landing at a proper time, around 2017.” The project also includes setting up a moon based astronomical telescope, measuing the thickness of the moon’s soil and the amount of Helium-3 on the moon. Some scientists believe that there is enough Helium-3 on the moon to power the world for thousands of years. “We will provide the most reliable report on Helium-3 to mankind,” Ouyang said.
ISRO, I am sure, will differ with Ouyang.
Normal helium has 2 protons and 2 neutrons in its nucleus, giving it an atomic weight of 4.
Now, if you take 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.
He3 casts lustful eyes upon that neutron in the deuterium, and will grab it if it gets a chance.
He3 is used in a reaction with deuterium to produce energy:
This is a nuclear fusion reaction. 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.
The fusion reaction time for the D-He3 reaction becomes significant at a temperature of about 10 KeV, and peaks about about 200 KeV. A 100 KeV (or so) reactor looks about optimum.
A reactor built to use the D-He3 reaction would be inherently safe. The worst-case failure scenario would not result in any civilian fatalities or significant exposures to radiation.
Note: MeV and KeV are measures of energy, standing for mega-electron volts and kilo-electron volts, respectively. In nuclear physics, these terms are used to refer to the amount of energy in a nuclear reactor. One electron volt is the energy acquired by one electron falling through a potential of one volt, equal to approximately 1.609 E-19
Lunar Supply Potential
In their 1988 paper, Kulcinski, et al., estimate a total of 1,100,000 metric tonnes of He3 have been deposited by the solar wind in the lunar regolith. Since the regolith has been stirred up by collisions with meteorites, we'll probably find He3 down to depths of several meters.
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 need to heat the dust to about 600 degrees C.
That 1 million metric tonnes of He3, reacted with deuterium, would generate about 20,000 terrawatt-years of thermal energy. The units alone are awesome: a terrawatt-year is one trillion (10 to 12th power) watt-years. To put this into perspective, one 100-watt light bulb will use 100 watt-years of energy in one year.
That's about 10 times the energy we could get from mining all the fossil fuels on Earth, without the smog and acid rain.
SO,HOW MUCH IS NEEDED?
About 25 tonnes of He3 would power the United States for 1 year at the current rate of energy consumption. To put it in perspective: that's about the weight of a fully loaded railroad box car, or a maximum Space Shuttle payload.
IMAGINE THAT, AGAIN !!
India’s total yearly consumption being far less at 130,000 MW, the same 25 tonnes of He3 will fire India’s consumption for several years. India has an ambitious dream of producing 400,000 MW by 2030.
The He3 reactors will only become a reality 50 years hence, It is a futuristic fuel, if at all.
IS INDIA'S He3 QUEST A PIPE-DREAM?
Not at all. Chandrayaan 1 will answer a few questions and India must be at the forefront of the space frontier to map and close in on its quest for a secure supply of energy. If its in space – so be it !!
WHAT IS ISRO DOING ABOUT IT?
Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is planning to send its second lunar odyssey, Chandrayaan-2, an Indo-Russian joint venture, likely by the end of next year or early 2010. The second mission, for which the ISRO and Russian federal space agency have already signed a pact, would feature a lander and a rover for a soft land on moon.
"We are planning to carry two human beings into the space in our first manned space mission by 2015. The project report has been cleared by the Space Commission. The project outlay is Rs 120 billion ($2 44 billion)," G. Madhavan Nair, chairman, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), told reporters on Wednesday.
Interesting, the Chinese stated 2017 for its manned mission date. Both these dates (India’s and China’s) are going to change.
LADIES & GENTLEMEN - THE RACE IS TRULY AND WELL ON !!
And let this logic sink in: If India is truly able to extract a "container" load of Helium 3 in the foreseeable future, it should sell a quarter portion to China.
NEWS AS ON 29TH OCTOBER: ALL IS WELL AND THIS IS ONE OF FIRST BATCH OF PICTURES TAKEN BY CAMERAS ON BOARD THE CHANDRAYAAN.