Moon Race: How Nations Compete to Explore Earth’s Natural Satellite

The Moon, Earth’s only natural satellite, has been a source of fascination and inspiration to mankind for thousands of years. It has also been the target of exploration and scientific investigation since the dawn of the space age. Over the next year, several countries and private companies plan to launch missions to the moon, each with their own objectives and challenges. Here’s an overview of some notable lunar missions expected to take place in 2023.

US: Artemis II and III

The American space agency NASA is advancing this ambition Project ArtemisIt aims to land the first woman and the first person of color on the moon by 2025 or 2026. The project aims to establish a permanent human presence on the lunar surface and use it as a stepping stone for future exploration of Mars and beyond. .

Artemis I, the first mission of the Artemis program, successfully completed a lunar orbit in December 2022 using the Orion spacecraft and a Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. The next mission, Artemis II, is scheduled to launch in 2024 and will carry four astronauts to orbit the moon. The third mission, Artemis III, will be a historic landing mission, using the SpaceX Starship vehicle to transport two crew members to the South Pole region of the Moon.

NASA hopes that the Artemis program will inspire a new generation of explorers and scientists, as well as foster international cooperation and commercial partnerships for lunar exploration.

EU: Heracles

The European Space Agency (ESA) is collaborating with NASA, Japan and Canada on a series of missions to pave the way for human exploration of the Moon. One of these tasks Heracles (human-enhanced robotic architecture and capability for lunar exploration and science), which is scheduled to launch in 2027.

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Hercules will consist of a lander, a rover and an ascent vehicle that will deliver samples from the lunar surface to an orbital gateway station. The rover will be controlled using advanced teleoperation technologies at the entrance or by astronauts on Earth. Samples will be transferred to Orion for return to Earth.

HERACLES will demonstrate key technologies and capabilities for future human missions to the Moon, including landing precision, surface maneuvering, sample handling and communications. It will also conduct scientific studies of the Moon’s environment and resources.

China: Chang’e 7

China has been steadily advancing its lunar exploration program since 2007 when it launched its first lunar orbiter, Chang’e 1. Since then, China has achieved many milestones such as landing a rover on the far side of the moon (Chang’e). 4) and returning lunar samples to Earth (Chang’e 5).

Next task China’s lunar program is Chang’e 7, which is expected to launch in 2024. Chang’e 7 will carry an orbiter, a lander, a rover and a flyby probe to explore the lunar south pole region. The mission will conduct detailed studies of the topography, geology, mineralogy, composition, ecology and resources of this area, which has high scientific interest and potential for future human settlement and commercial exploitation.

China has announced plans with Russia to set up a joint base on the moon by 2035, but no timeline has been drawn for the plan.

Russia: Moon 25

Russia has a long history of lunar exploration, having launched the first satellite (Sputnik 1), the first spacecraft to reach the moon (Luna 1) and the first soft landing on the moon (Luna 9) during the Soviet era. )

After a gap of more than four decades, Russia is resuming its lunar program Luna 25, which is scheduled to launch in July 2023. Luna 25 will be a lander that will touch down near the Moon’s south pole and collect samples from its surface. The lander will carry several instruments to study the lander’s thermal regime, plasma environment, dust dynamics and chemical composition.

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Luna 25 is the first in a series of missions to explore various aspects of the Moon, including its geology, magnetism, outer atmosphere, volatiles, and internal structure.

India: Chandrayaan 3

India is another emerging space power that has set its sights on the moon. India’s first lunar probe, Chandrayaan 1, launched in 2008 and orbited the moon for nearly a year, making several discoveries such as the presence of water molecules on the moon’s surface.

India’s second lunar mission, Chandrayaan 2, was launched in 2019 and consisted of an orbiter, a lander and a rover. However, the lander and rover failed to make a soft landing on the moon and fell near the South Pole.

India is now gearing up for its third lunar mission. Chandrayaan, which is scheduled to launch in June 2023. Chandrayaan 3 will be a replica of Chandrayaan 2, a lander and rover will attempt to land near the South Pole and explore its terrain and resources. The orbiter will continue to operate from Chandrayaan 2 and transmit data from the lander and rover.

Chandrayaan 3 is India’s second attempt to achieve a soft landing on the Moon and will demonstrate its technological capabilities for future lunar missions.

Japan: SLIM

Japan has been exploring the moon since the late 2000s, when it launched its first lunar orbiter, Kaguya (SELENE), which mapped the moon at high resolution and found traces of water ice in permanently shadowed craters.

Japan’s Next Moon Expedition SLIM (Smart Lander for Lunar Exploration), which will be launched later this year. SLIM will be a small lander that will test techniques for landing on the moon with high precision, a level of precision that no other country has ever achieved. The mission uses a camera to target a small crater near the equator and take pictures of the landing site.

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SLIM paves the way for future missions that require precision landing capabilities, such as sample return or resource utilization.

South Korea: KPLO

South Korea is another newcomer to lunar exploration, with its first mission to the moon scheduled to launch in August 2023. This task is called KPLO (Korean Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter)And it will have an orbit that will circle the moon for at least one year.

KPLO will carry six instruments to study various aspects of the lunar environment such as magnetic field, plasma, radiation, topography, mineralogy and gravity. The craft will also carry a small payload from NASA called the Shadow Cam, which will map the distribution of water ice in permanently shadowed regions near the poles.

KPLO will be the first step to protect and verify South Korea’s space exploration capability and obtain new scientific measurements of the Moon.

The Moon Race is on

The Moon is seeing renewed interest and activity from various countries and organizations interested in exploring its mysteries and possibilities. Next year will see an unprecedented number of missions to the Moon, each with their own unique goals and challenges. These missions will not only advance our scientific knowledge and technical capabilities, but also foster international cooperation and commercial innovation in lunar exploration.

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