A private company in Texas is planning a "gas station in space" by mining on the moon, as other companies and countries are also looking to harness its lucrative resources.
Shackleton Energy Company (SEC) is aiming to mine the reserves of water ice from the moon, which it will then convert into rocket propellant in the form of hydrogen and oxygen, that could be sold to space partners in low Earth orbit.
Writing in Physics World, science writer Richard Corfield said private companies and space agencies have been looking to monetise the moon for decades, tapping into its resources as SEC is hoping to do with the water ice.
"It is this, more than anything else, that has kindled interest in mining the Moon, for where there is ice, there is fuel," he said.
SEC chief executive officer Dale Tietz said he plans to extract water ice from the moon by sending humans and robots to the lunar poles. He said the rocket propellant would be sold at prices significantly lower than the current rate of sending fuel from Earth.
The company plans to use some of the converted products to power mining hoppers, lunar rovers and life support for its activities.
Also looking to mine on the Moon, China is hoping to obtain rare earth elements. After the successful landing of the Jade Rabbit in December 2013, China's space agency has indicated plans to create a base on the moon.
Rare earth elements – vital for everything from mobile phones to car batteries – are dwindling on Earth, making the moon an important potential source for industry.
"All interested parties agree that the moon - one step from Earth - is the essential first toehold for humankind's diaspora to the stars," Corfield said.