[REVIEW] : Astronomy: why are there so many lunar missions in 2022?

This year will see a multitude of missions to the Moon, after a year of fallow in 2021 without any moon landing.

NASA will kick off its Artemis program and sponsor a number of other missions to deliver equipment and supplies to the Moon for use by future astronauts.

India, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates will also launch lunar missions this year, and besides countries, a number of companies will also be rushing to reach Earth’s satellite this year. .

All of these unmanned space flights will lay the foundation for a lasting human presence on the moon’s surface in less than ten years.

But that’s not the ultimate goal: the installation of a lunar space station is just one step on the path of manned missions to the red planet, Mars.

University of Bristol astrophysicist Dr Zoë Leinhardt believes this year marks the start of a new space race involving new countries.

While many of these missions aim to study the Moon itself, some have more ambitious aspirations.

“Missions to the Moon are both a proof of concept and an opportunity to test new technologies and collaborations,” explains Dr Leinhardt.

What does each mission consist of and what is their objective? Here’s what to expect on the Moon this year:

NASA and Capstone Artemis-1 Mission

NASA’s ambitious Artemis space program aims to bring people back to the moon by 2025.

Next March, the Artemis-1 mission will begin to lay the foundations for this ambitious goal.

The mission will be unmanned, with the exception of a “Moonikin” which will take place in the Commander’s seat on Artemis I. This is a realistic dummy named after Arturo Campos, a key player in the return. of Apollo 13 on Earth.

Campos’ role will be to test the spacesuit that Artemis astronauts will use during launch, entry into the atmosphere, and other dynamic phases of their missions.

NASA will take a close look at data from Orion’s heat shield as it re-enters Earth at high speed at nearly 2,760 degrees Celsius.

This year will also see another key part of the Artemis program reach a milestone.

Capstone – Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment – est la mission exploratoire du programme Artemis.

NASA will launch a microwave-sized satellite or CubeStat, Capstone’s spacecraft, also in March 2022, to test a centered lunar orbit, rotating with the Moon as it revolves around Earth.

The goal is to ensure the safety of astronauts on future trips.

‘The ultimate goal is Mars’

The information that will be obtained through this test will help to validate the operational models of another key element of the Artemis program – the gateway.

NASA describes it as “a versatile moon orbiting outpost that provides essential support for man’s long-term return to the lunar surface.”

If all goes as planned, Artemis-3 should allow the first moon landing in 2025 since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. The mission should also include the first female astronaut and the first person of color to land on the moon.

Dr. Hannah Sargeant, a planetary scientist at the University of Central Florida, notes that the focus on the moon is part of a larger vision. The front door is also intended to serve as a stage for the exploration of deep space.

“Robotic missions to the Moon are one of the first steps in this roadmap, which will lead to a lunar space station, a moon base and, ultimately, crewed missions to Mars,” she explains. .

Missions of India, Japan and UAE

Other nations and businesses are also eyeing the moon this year.

Some of them will conduct research and others will deliver supplies and equipment.

Two years after the failure of a first moon landing, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is planning a lunar exploration mission called “Chandrayaan-3”. A spacecraft carrying a lunar rover and a stationary lander will be launched in the third quarter of 2022.

Japan has two ambitious lunar projects this year.

The Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) plans to launch a lunar lander in April 2022.

Called SLIM (Smart Lander for Investigating the Moon), it will demonstrate precise moon landing techniques and recognize lunar craters by applying facial recognition systems technology. The XRISM (X-Ray Imagining and Spectroscopy Mission) space telescope will also be on board.

And the Japanese space company, ispace, will also send a lander to the moon in the second half of 2022. Mission 1 (M1) is part of JAXA’s commercial lunar exploration program “Hakuto-R” as part of the from which two robot explorers will be deployed.

One of them, built by JAXA, is a small two-wheeled rover that will explore the surface of the Moon. The other rover that the Japanese company will deploy is from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and is called Rashid.

It is a four-wheeled vehicle responsible for testing the soil of the Moon.

The Russian Luna 25 mission and the Pathfinder lunar orbiter from South Korea

Russia’s 2022 lunar mission is called Luna 25.

It will be the country’s first mission to the surface of the moon in 45 years and the first to land on the lunar south pole. This is the area that NASA envisions for manned lunar missions.

Russian space agency Roscosmos is planning the launch in July 2022.

South Korea’s space agency, the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, will launch the Korean Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO) to the moon a month later, in August 2022.

KPLO will study the surface of the Moon and help plan future missions to the lunar poles.

NASA commercial robots

Private companies are also participating in the Moon Rush.

Under a NASA program called Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS), companies will compete to provide transportation services to the moon’s surface.

Houston-based company Intuitive Machines wants to use a six-legged lunar robot called the Nova-C to transport payloads to the moon’s surface in early 2022.

A subsequent mission will be launched by Pennsylvania-based company Astrobotic Technology in mid-2022. This company’s Peregrine 1 mission will carry scientific research payloads using a box-shaped four-legged lander.

What is the purpose of these missions?

Mr. Sargeant says many of them will focus on the lunar environment, with the goal of finding ways to protect crews and equipment from anything dangerous, like moon dust and intense solar winds.

The missions will also give scientists the opportunity to test prototype equipment and experiments they could use to generate resources like water.

“We want to make sure these machines are working before we send our crews to the Moon, which will depend on the precious resources they generate,” says Dr Sargeant. “Ultimately, these resources could be used to produce the fuel needed to send missions to Mars.”

“The Moon also serves as a test bed for technologies that we would like to use someday on the Red Planet. It is much closer to us, only three days away, instead of the minimum six months it takes to reach Mars. ”

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