NASA’s recent Artemis I mission, during which an astronaut-capable spacecraft conducts a flyby of the moon, has helped put our nearest celestial neighbor back in the spotlight.
Orion’s journey, which ended December 11 after 25 days in space, precedes five other multi-nation missions targeting the moon in 2023.
So let’s take a look at what to expect:
Japan aims to develop a commercial lunar lander capable of delivering multiple payloads to the lunar surface. On this test mission, the Hakuto-R lander will attempt to deploy a rover named Rashid from the United Arab Emirates as part of the Arab nation’s first lunar mission. The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched earlier this month, and the lander is scheduled to reach the lunar surface in April.
The briefcase-sized Lunar Flashlight flew into space on the Hakuto-R lander. The spacecraft will not land on the lunar surface, instead spending the next three months using lasers to search for water ice in craters on the moon’s south pole. These craters are perpetually in shadow and as a result have not seen sunlight for billions of years.
This mission will include a GSLV Mark 3 heavy-lift launch vehicle carrying a lander module and robotic rover to the moon in June 2023. The mission follows Chandrayaan-2, which ended badly in 2019 when the lander crashed on the lunar surface. The rover will carry a seismometer, heat flux experiment and spectrometer, and will also explore the moon’s south pole.
Russia plans to launch its Luna 25 mission in July after several delays. A probe will be placed on the moon to collect samples from the southern polar region.
The main objectives of the mission are to study the composition of the polar regolith and to study the plasma and dust components of the moon’s polar exosphere. The lander features an array of scientific instruments, including a robotic arm used to remove and collect the regolith at the surface.
This ambitious mission has been set for 2023, although to be honest we can’t imagine that being the case. The flight will use SpaceX’s Super Heavy and Starship spacecraft to send Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and eight other civilian passengers on a moon flyby. The only thing is that SpaceX has yet to test the Super Heavy. The first orbital flight of the most powerful rocket that has ever flown is scheduled for early 2023. Even if it goes according to plan, it seems unlikely that SpaceX will have everything ready to send the spacecraft and eight crew members on a flight to the moon and back by December. But let’s wait and see!
The upcoming lunar missions could provide important data for spacefaring nations interested in building bases on the moon where astronauts can live and work for long periods of time.
It’s also believed that the Moon could one day act as a stepping stone for manned missions to Mars and beyond, as its weaker gravity makes rocket launches easier and more efficient compared to launches from Earth. Importantly, lunar water could be converted into rocket fuel to power these launches.
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