The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) Wide Angle Camera (WAC) is imaging the surface in seven different wavelengths at a resolution of between 100 and 400 metres per pixel. Specific minerals reflect or absorb strongly certain parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, so the wavelengths detected by LROC WAC help scientists better understand the chemical composition of the lunar surface.
Robinson and his team previously developed a technique using Hubble Space Telescope images to map titanium abundances around a small area centred on the Apollo 17 landing site. Samples around the site spanned a broad range of titanium levels. By comparing the Apollo data from the ground with the Hubble images, the team found that the titanium levels corresponded to the ratio of ultraviolet to visible light reflected by the lunar soils.
This lunar mosaic shows the boundary between Mare Serenitatis and Mare Tranquillitatis. The relative blue color of the Tranquillitatis mare is due to higher abundances of the titanium-bearing mineral ilmenite.
CREDIT: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University
“We still don’t really understand why we find much higher abundances of titanium on the Moon compared to similar types of rocks on Earth. What the lunar titanium-richness does tell us is that the interior of the Moon had less oxygen when it was formed, knowledge that geochemists value for understanding the evolution of the Moon,” said Robinson.
Lunar titanium is mostly found in the mineral ilmenite, a compound containing iron, titanium and oxygen. Future miners living and working on the Moon could break down ilmenite to liberate these elements. In addition, Apollo data shows that titanium-rich minerals are more efficient at retaining particles from the solar wind, such as helium and hydrogen. These gases would also provide a vital resource for future human inhabitants of lunar colonies.
A 2007 analysis of mining titanium on the moon Additive manufacturing could provide a more efficient process for working with lunar titanium.
An electrostatic ilmenite separator could process 15,000 tons of regolith per year working 10 hours a day, 150 days a year, and processing 10 tons of regolith per hour. It would amass about 0.6 tons per ton-hr. of regolith, or in this case about six tons. It would use 1.2 kW/ton of input mass or about 12 kilowatts of electricity. The electrostatic separator could output 100 kg. of ilmenite for every ton of input mass, or about one ton per hour in this case.
Thus, enough ilmenite could be extracted every hour to make 320 kilograms of titanium. That's 480 tons of titanium every year from just six tons of beneficiation equipment transported to the Moon.
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