European Space Agency Plans to Mine the Moon
Moon's surface (Picture: NASA)

In what could spark a new space race, the European Space Agency has said it plans to mine the Moon for natural resources such as water and oxygen by 2025. The agency announced on Monday that it had signed a one-year contract with European aerospace company Ariane Group to explore the mining of regolith, also known as lunar soil or moon dust from Earth’s satellite.

Regolith is the layer of loose soil that covers the moon's surface, which is rich with iron oxide. 'Regolith is an ore from which it is possible to extract water and oxygen, thus enabling an independent human presence on the Moon to be envisaged, capable of producing the fuel needed for more distant exploratory missions, ESA says.

"The use of space resources could be a key to sustainable lunar exploration," said David Parker, ESA Director of Human and Robotic Exploration, in a statement. "This study is part of ESA's comprehensive plan to make Europe a partner in global exploration in the next decade," Parker said.

The mission would be a collaboration between aerospace scientists and technicians based in France, Germany and Belgium. The mission will pit Europe against the US, Russia and China, all of whom are working on new moon missions.

“As ESA and other agencies prepare to send humans back to the Moon – this time to stay – technologies that make use of materials available in space (in-situ resource utilisation) are seen as key to sustainability, and a stepping stone in humankind's adventure to Mars and farther into the Solar System,' the space agency said.  'In the longer term, resources in space may even be used on Earth.'

NASA too has plans for another Moon mission but will rely on private firms to run the missions.  The space agency had said it will work with nine private firms, ranging from small startups to giants like Lockheed Martin, to develop robotic landers and systems to mine the natural resources on the moon.