NASA’s recent Artemis I mission involving an astronaut-ready spacecraft performing a flyby of the Moon has helped put our closest celestial neighbor back in the spotlight.
Orion’s journey, which ended on December 11 after 25 days in space, comes ahead of five new missions aimed at the moon in 2023, organized by several nations.
So let’s take a look at what you can expect:
Haukuto-R mission 1 (Japan)
Japan aims to create a commercial lunar lander capable of deploying multiple payloads to the surface of the moon. 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, with the lander set to reach the lunar surface in April.
Lunar Flashlight (USA)
The suitcase-sized Lunar flashlight traveled to space with the Hakuto-R lander. The spacecraft will not touch the moon’s surface, but will instead spend the next three months using lasers to search for water ice in craters on the moon’s south pole. These craters are permanently in shadow and therefore have not seen sunlight for billions of years.
This mission will involve a GSLV Mark 3 heavy lifter propelling a lander and a robotic rover towards the moon in June 2023. The mission follows Chandrayaan-2, which ended badly in 2019 when the lander crash-landed on the lunar surface. The rover will carry a seismometer, heat flow experiment and spectrometers, and also explore the moon’s south pole.
Luna 25 (Russia)
Russia aims to launch its Luna 25 mission in July after several delays. It involves putting a probe on the moon to collect samples from the south polar region.
The main objectives of the mission are to study the composition of the polar regolith, and to investigate the plasma and dust components of the moon’s polar exosphere. The lander has a number of scientific instruments including a robotic arm that will be used to remove and collect the surface regolith.
This ambitious mission has been set for 2023, but to be honest, we can’t see it happening. The flight will use SpaceX’s Super Heavy and Starship spacecraft to send Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and eight additional civilian passengers on a flyby of the moon. The only thing is that SpaceX has not yet tested the Super Heavy. The first orbital flight of what will be the most powerful rocket ever flown is expected to take place in early 2023. Even if it goes according to plan, it seems unlikely that SpaceX will have everything ready to send the Starship 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 longer periods.
It is also believed that the moon could one day act as a springboard for crewed missions to Mars and beyond, with its weaker gravitational pull making rocket launches easier and more efficient compared to launches from Earth. Importantly, lunar water can be converted into rocket fuel to power these launches.
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