Ex-Blue Origin Leaders' Secret Lunar Startup Interluon Has Moonshot Mining Plans | Tech Crunch

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InterluneA stealth startup led by X-Blue Origin executives is focused on mining the moon for the rare helium isotope that could be used to scale quantum computing and eventually even power fusion, TechCrunch has learned.

Regulatory Filings Reported here last week The company recently showed that it closed $15.5 million in new capital; Before that, Interluon raised a $2.69 million pre-seed round. But the rationale for raising capital was poorly understood – until now.

Two of Interluon's secret pitch decks, dated spring 2022 and fall 2023 and viewed by TechCrunch, revealed the startup is seeking funding to build and test resource extraction hardware for the lunar Helium-3 (He-3). An Interlune spokesman declined to comment.

Interluon said in a recent pitch deck that it has developed an “advanced extraction method” for He-3 from lunar regolith, though the slides don't go into much detail. According to a slide, the startup combines sedan-sized extractors with other hardware to make potentially scalable physical plants. But there is no explanation of how helium might be stored or transported back to Earth.

He-3 is a stable isotope of helium; When the Earth is shielded from the solar wind by its magnetic field, the Moon is bombarded with it, and high-energy particles such as He-3 are deposited on the Moon's surface. On Earth, the most common source of He-3 is from the decay of tritium, a man-made element used in nuclear weapons. Interluon predicts an “exponential” increase in demand for He-3 in the coming years, driven by fields such as quantum computing, medical imaging, in-space propellant and fusion, forecasting an annual demand of 4,000 kilograms by 2040. Now only 5 kilograms)

The good news is that He-3 is as rare on the Moon as it is on Earth. Mining the moon for He-3 is not a new concept: data collected since the Apollo mission have shown that the isotope is abundant there. But over the years, it has long been considered the stuff of science fiction: scientists have never gotten around to developing the extraction technology necessary to make such an effort worthwhile. He-3 can be used to power fusion reactors — a particularly attractive concept, provided the byproducts aren't radioactive — but while nuclear fusion research has made big gains in the past few years, it will take more to make fusion commercial. -A viable energy source here on Earth (only in space).

Other countries have already started looking towards our moon to solve this problem. Notably, China announced in 2022 that its Chang'e-5 robotic mission had collected the new moon mineral containing He-3, indicating greater reserves than previously thought.

China's interest in He-3 mining creates a national security imperative to secure these vast tonnages of resources on the Moon — which means undiluted government contracts and defense-focused investors looking for good traction for Interluon from both government agencies. the angle

Interluon's executive team includes CEO Rob Meyerson, a prolific space industry investor and previous president of Blue Origin; CTO Gary Lai, former chief architect at Blue Origin; and COO Indra Hornsby, with industry experience in the Rocket Lab, BlackSky and Spaceflight industries. The startup has been around for at least three years, but beyond a few brief public statements, this is the first time the public has learned about its plans in any detail.

Image Credits: Interlune

Deck also says Interluon plans to launch the pilot plant He-3 in 2028 and demonstrate the technology on the Moon by 2026. If plans work out as expected, the company said it could see $500 million in investors. Annual recurring revenue from He-3 recovery by the start of the next decade – and will only increase from there.

But still, it's an expensive plan: the company has to pay for the launch, secure a resource return partner, and build all the hardware needed to start mining at scale. The economics, such as the cost of mining a gram of helium, are also unclear. But if Interluon can pull it off, it'll be in a category of its own: There are other startups focused on resource extraction in space, but they're focused entirely on using lunar resources for on-orbit applications (like Argo Space Corp.) or they're focused only on minerals (like AstroForge). .

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