There is global space race among countries to build Moon bases, harness it’s mineral resources and helium-3, fuel for future nuclear fusion power plants. Space agencies in China, Japan, Europe, Russia, Iran , Canada and a few private companies all hope to send people to the moon by as early as 2025. They’re talking about building bases, mining for natural resources, and studying the moon in unprecedented detail. A key figure at the European Space Agency says we must look at how we exploit the moon’s resources before it is too late, as missions begin surface mapping.
A Chinese spacecraft has become the first to land on the far side of the moon in a historic moment for human space exploration. The robotic probe Chang’e 4 landed in the unexplored South Pole-Aitken basin, the biggest known impact structure in the solar system, at about 2.30am GMT in Jan 2019. China plans to launch the Chang’e-5 lunar probe in 2019, which is expected to bring lunar samples back to the Earth, according to Pei Zhaoyu, deputy director of the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of the China National Space Administration (CNSA). While addressing a space conference, China’s Space Day, Pei said that the Chang’e-5 lunar probe will be very complex, containing four parts: an orbiter, a returner, an ascender and a lander.
Russia has unveiled plans to build a colony on the moon within 20 years. Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russian space agency Roscosmos, said: “This is the very important moment for Roscosmos.” He said the organization was struggling with financial burdens but there was a clear five-year plan that would lead to a new age of space technology. Anatoly Petrukovich of the Russian Academy of Sciences said: “A trip to Mars with the current state of space travel technology is too complicated. “The moon, therefore, is a much more logical goal.” “The project we are experimenting with is for the long-term habitation by humans. It is about a colony on the surface of the moon.”
The previous program drafted by Roscosmos in 2014 that put forward the idea of a three-stage lunar project that attracted hundreds of applications from aspiring astronauts. The three stages involved the creation of a module orbiting the moon, followed by the landing of workers involved in the construction of the base and finally the establishment of a lunar colony that among other things will maintain a telescope on the dark side of the moon. Work could start as soon as 2025, according to a statement by Yevgeny Mikrin, head designer at the country’s space program. The final plans will be completed by next year.
NASA is partnering with six US-based companies to develop a new generation of space exploration technology that could see lunar landers return to the Moon in the near future. The US space agency has set aside a £34.6 million ($44 million) prize pool for its Tipping Point Technologies competition, which includes the development of Moon landing tech. The funding is spread across three different categories: Increase Access to Planetary Surfaces, Enable Efficient and Safe Transportation Into and Through Space and Expand Utilisation of Space. Among the presented tech is a £2.2 million ($3 million) investment in Blue Origin to develop tools for precision and soft landing on the lunar orb in the near future.
In December 2017, President Donald J. Trump gave NASA a new direction, telling the agency to work with international and commercial partners to refocus exploration efforts on the moon, with an eye to eventually going on to Mars and even beyond. As stated in Space Policy Directive-1, “The NASA Administrator shall, ‘Lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities. Beginning with missions beyond low-Earth orbit, the United States will lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization, followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations.’ ” “We’re dreaming big.” “America will always be the first in space,” Trump said during a speech at the White House. “We don’t want China and Russia and other countries leading us. We’ve always led,” he added.
Moon has abundance of invaluable materials
The moon has abundant of invaluable materials; an acronym KREEP signifies the richness of geochemical components potassium (K), rare-earth elements (REE) and phosphorus (P) in lunar rocks. The lunar orbiters from Europe, China, Japan, India and US have also pointed to the presence of minerals and related geologic processes.
The moon is also rich in helium-3, gold, cobalt, iron, palladium and tungsten. The soil samples collected by Appolo 17 mission had confirmed the presence of helium-3. Helium-3 can fuel non-radioactive nuclear fusion reactors in the future to produce safe, efficient and clean energy, vital to our energy security. Scientists estimate that the moon could contain approximately 1 million tons of helium-3, enough to power the entire earth for 10,000 years.
NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper, known as M3, carried on India’s Chandrayaan-I, found many mineral concentrations and even presence of water on the surface of the moon. Water on the moon is strategically important for life support, energy storage and as propellant.
Rare earth elements, called rare because of their low abundance on earth, are essential ingredients of many modern consumer and defense products including wind turbines, glass for solar panels and guided missiles.
China’s growing space ambitions are targeted towards future economic development and strategic advantage. In 2002, Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist of China’s lunar exploration program, stated that “The moon could serve as a new and tremendous supplier of energy and resources for human beings… This is crucial to sustainable development of human beings on Earth… Whoever first conquers the moon will benefit first.” Ouyang Ziyuan, was among the first to advocate the exploitation not only of known lunar reserves of metals such as titanium, but also of helium-3, an ideal fuel for future nuclear fusion power plants.
Prof Ouyang Ziyuan of the department of lunar and deep space exploration explained that there were three motivations behind the drive to investigate the Moon. “First, to develop our technology because lunar exploration requires many types of technology, including communications, computers, all kinds of IT skills and the use of different kinds of materials. This is the key reason,” he told BBC News.
“Second, in terms of the science, besides Earth we also need to know our brothers and sisters like the Moon, its origin and evolution and then from that we can know about our Earth. “Third, in terms of the talents, China needs its own intellectual team who can explore the whole lunar and solar system – that is also our main purpose.”
A rationale for this long-term programme is that “there are many ways humans can use the Moon”. With no air on the Moon, solar panels would operate far more efficiently, he believes, and a “belt” of them could “support the whole world”. The Moon is also “so rich” in helium-3, which is a possible fuel for nuclear fusion, that this could “solve human beings’ energy demand for around 10,000 years at least.
Prof Ouyang highlighted the combination of an extremely thin atmosphere and massive temperature extremes offering a unique possibility for manufacturing that does not exist on Earth. “The Moon is full of resources – mainly rare earth elements, titanium, and uranium, which the Earth is really short of, and these resources can be used without limitation.
China’s Moon Exploration Programs
China successfully landed a spacecraft — the Chang’e 3 — on the moon in December 2013, becoming only the third nation after the United States and Russia to land on the moon’s surface. The Chang’e 3 mission, included lander and China’s first lunar rove called Yutu (“Jade Rabbit”), which successfully soft-landed on the Moon. The country will also unveil a new generation of carrier rockets including Long March 5 and 7 in 2016, along with other new satellites and spacelabs. The mission followed two lunar orbiter missions, Chang’e-1 and Chang’e-2, launched in 2007 and 2010
China first to explore ‘dark side’ of the moon through Chang’e-4 lander and rover mission
In January 2019, China’s Chang’e 4 landed on the Von Kármán Crater/South Pole-Aitken Basin, with an extended goal to establish a permanent lunar research station by 2035. It was first ever attempt at a soft landing on the far side of the moon, and China being first ever country. The Chinese lunar exploration plan is explicit. As Sun Zezhou, chief designer of the Chang’e-4 probe, from the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), explained:
If we want to build a scientific research station on the moon, we will need to land multiple probes within the same area so that they can be assembled easily into a complex, which requires even greater landing accuracy…So solving the challenges of the Chang’e-4 mission can lay the foundation for the following lunar exploration and future landing on other planets.
The Chang’e-4 probe carried a 3 kilogram bio-regenerative life support system module consisting of potatoes, cotton, arabidopsis seeds, and silk-worm eggs. Only the cotton seed sprouted. Xie Gengxin, professor at Chongqing University and the chief designer of the experiment, stated, “Life in the canister would not survive the lunar night…We had no such experience before. And we could not simulate the lunar environment, such as microgravity and cosmic radiation, on Earth.” This experiment was aimed at understanding how seeds can be sprouted to acquire further knowledge on ensuring their survival into the lunar night. Significantly, the Chang’e-4 survived the frigid lunar night (14 Earth days), with temperatures that drop below negative 150-170 degrees centigrade, and automatically awoke itself on January 31, as the lunar day dawned. The probe went into dormant mode again for its second lunar night through February 28.
One of the mission’s objectives is to study any exposed material from the mantle present at the landing site. This would provide insights into the internal structure and history of the Moon. The rover will use its panoramic camera to identify interesting locations and its Visible and Near-Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (VNIS) to study minerals in the floor of the crater (as well as of ejecta – rocks thrown out by nearby space impacts). The Lunar Penetrating Radar (LPR) instrument will be able to look into the shallow subsurface of the Moon, down to a depth of about 100m. It could probe the thickness of the lunar regolith – the broken up rocks and dust that make up the surface – and shed light on the structure of the upper lunar crust. Significantly, the Chang’e-4 rover has a radar that can penetrate the lunar surface to search for resources like iron ore.
Wu Weiren, chief designer of China’s robotic lunar program, told the state news agency Xinhua that the spacecraft has adaptable parts and an adjustable payload configuration to deal with the complex terrain on the far side of the moon, the requirements of communication via relay satellite and the science payloads.
Visible on the newly released render of lander are the antennae for the Low Frequency Spectrometer (LFS), which will take advantage of the uniquely quiet electromagnetic environment offered by the far side of the moon to make low frequency radio observations. There’s a frequency band (below about 10MHz) where radio astronomy observations can’t be conducted from Earth, because of manmade radio interference and other, natural factors. Signals to and from the rover are being relayed through a satellite called Queqiao (Magpie Bridge). Queqiao is in a “halo orbit” on the other side of the moon, from where it can communicate with both Chang’e and the Earth. The lander also carries a Landing Camera (LCAM), Terrain Camera (TCAM), and the German-developed Lunar Lander Neutrons and Dosimetry (LND).
Like Chang’e-3, the rover will carry a Panoramic Camera (PCAM) and Lunar Penetrating Radar (LPR). Additionally, a Visible and Near-Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (VNIS) and Advanced Small Analyzer for Neutrals (ASAN)—the latter developed by the Swedish Institute of Space Physics, Kiruna—will also be aboard.
When the Apollo astronauts visited the moon in the late 60s and early 70s, “they covered two parts in one million of the lunar surface,” David Kring of the Lunar and Planetary Institute said. The far side of the moon and its polar regions remain untouched.
Johann-Dietrich Wörner director general of European Space Agency asserted that a far-side outpost on the moon offers a number of “drivers,” including cosmological research. For instance, the lunar far side is shielded from radiation-chatter broadcasts from Earth, allowing radio telescopes built there to survey the universe with very little background noise, he said.
Relay satellite in position and functioning
As the far side of the moon never faces the Earth due to tidal locking, a relay satellite is required to facilitate communications between the spacecraft on the lunar far side and ground stations on the Earth. Named Queqiao, a satellite with a 4.2-meter parabolic antenna was launched May 20 from Xichang and entered a Lissajous orbit June 14 beyond the moon around the Earth-moon Lagrange point 2. The orbit will allow Queqiao constant line of line-of-sight with both the lunar far side and terrestrial tracking stations.
Queqiao will relay telecommands from the ground to the Chang’e-4 lunar spacecraft and transmit data and telemetry back to Earth via S-band, while using X-band to communicate with the lander and rover. Recently uring the Wednesday news conference it was stated that the function of the relay satellite has been sound, allowing China to proceed with the launch of Chang’e-4 in December.
China is taking another step in its space exploration programme, starting a trial scenario for a permanent Moon station.Four postgraduate students from the astronautics university of Beihang moved into the cabin, ambitiously called the Yuegong-1, or Lunar Palace in English. They will stay in the cabin for 60 days, followed by another group who will stay for 200 days. The first four will then return for yet another 105 days.
According to state news agency Xinhua, one of the main elements of the experiment is to explore is how a space mission could be entirely self-contained over a long period of time. Human waste will undergo a bio-fermentation process, and crops and vegetables are to be grown with the help of food and waste by-products. The model Moon station has two plant cultivation modules and a living cabin housing four bed cubicles, one common room, a bathroom, a waste treatment room and a room for raising animals.
Follow up Lunar Missions
On January 14 2019, Wu Yanhua, deputy head of CNSA, announced follow-up lunar missions. By 2019-end, China will launch Chang’e-5, to bring lunar samples back to Earth; this will be followed by Chang’e-6, aimed at bringing samples from the South Pole; Chang’e-7 will survey the South Pole for evaluating its composition. The Chang’e-8 will test key technologies like 3D printing to lay groundwork for the construction of a scientific base on the moon. Critically, scientists at the Technology and Engineering Center for Space Utilization of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) tested 3D printing technology in micro-gravity by successfully completing a ceramic testing technology in 2018.
According to Wang Gong, director of the CAS Key Laboratory of Space Manufacturing Technology, this evaluated Chinese capability to build bases on the moon and Mars, as well as in-situ resource utilization and space manufacturing with space based resources. Using ceramics is instructive as it is similar in composition to lunar silicate particles. As Wang put it, “Elon Musk and SpaceX are developing technologies to take people to other planets, and we are developing technologies to help them survive.”
In September 2018, Li Guoping, director of the Department of System Engineering at CNSA, stated that China will be sending robotic probes to the lunar poles by 2030. These probes will explore the South Pole to analyze the lunar soil’s age, and the composition of the solar wind’s isotopes of hydrogen, carbon, helium, and oxygen. The rover that will explore the North Pole will examine whether ice exists in the permanent shadow area. The lunar poles probe will be the final step toward establishing China’s scientific research base.
Chang’e 5 – Sample Return Launch: 2019
Chang’e 5 is a Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) lunar sample return mission has been rescheduled to launch in 2019. The mission goal is to land in the Mons Rumker region of Oceanus Procellarum, and return a 2 kg sample of lunar regolith, possibly from as deep as 2 meters.
The mission is reported to consist of four modules. Two of the modules will land on the Moon, one designed to collect samples and transfer them to the second module, designed to ascend from the lunar surface into orbit, where it will dock with a third module. Finally the samples will be transferred to the fourth module, also in lunar orbit, which will return them to Earth. The spacecraft carries a Panoramic Camera (PCAM), Lunar Regolith Penetrating Radar (LRPR), and the Lunar Mineralogical Spectrometer (LMS).
The lander will put moon samples in a vessel in the ascender after the Moon landing. Then the ascender will take off from the Moon to dock with the orbiter and the returner orbiting the Moon, and transfer the samples to the returner, Pei said. The orbiter and returner then head back to the Earth, separating from each other when they are several thousands of kilometers from the Earth. Finally, the returner will make its way back to the Earth, according to Pei.
After fulfilling the three steps of its lunar probe program — orbiting, landing and returning — China will conduct further exploration of the Moon, including landing and probing the polar regions of the Moon, said Tian Yulong, secretary general of CNSA. Exotic materials including helium-3 and the potential for solar power could prove invaluable for humankind, said Prof Ouyang Ziyuan of the department of lunar and deep space exploration. The Chang’e 5-T1, launched in 2014, was a test flight to validate the atmospheric re-entry design of the sample return capsule.
US company Moon Express look toward Lunar Mining
California-based company Moon Express, which aims to fly commercial missions to the moon and help unlock its resources, has signed a five-launch deal with Rocket Lab, with the first two robotic liftoffs scheduled to take place in 2017.
The 3.9-foot-wide (1.2 m) Electron rocket is designed to deliver a 330-lb. (150 kilograms) payload to a sun-synchronous orbit 310 miles (500 kilometers) above Earth, according to Rocket Lab’s website.
The contract puts Moon Express in position to possibly win the Google Lunar X Prize, a $30 million competition to land a privately funded robotic spacecraft on the moon by the end of 2017. The first team to do this — and have the craft move 1,640 feet (500 m) and beam high-definition video and images back to Earth as well — will win the $20 million grand prize. (The second team to accomplish these goals gets $5 million; another $5 million is available for meeting certain other milestones.)
Mining the moon for rare minerals is considered an exciting prospect because the supply of resources here on Earth is limited. Given the finite amount of these Earth-based minerals and metals, the cost is astronomically high. Palladium, for instance, which is used for electronics, sells for $784 per ounce.
Moon Express plans to send its robotic lander, dubbed “MX-1,” to the moon by 2016, aiming to demonstrate safety and reliability of the moon landing. It has already put into test a prototype at the Kennedy Space Center.
Naveen Jain, the co-founder of Moon Express said, that while the first mission of the company’s lander is a one-way trip — which means that MX-1 won’t be traveling back to Earth — the second and third missions could already involve bringing precious minerals, metals and moon rocks back to Earth.
Russia plan to place astronauts on the moon by 2029
“A manned flight to the Moon and lunar landing is planned for 2029,” Vladimir Solntsev, head of Roscosmos Energia (RSC Energia), said in an announcement, reported Russia Today. Also, in the far eastern part of their country, the Russians are building a huge, $3 billion cosmodrome. Reports indicate that this be a new spaceport specifically designed to send and receive spacecraft from lunar orbit.
After a series of failures, the Russian space industry stands on the brink of new technological breakthroughs in the field of space technology, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said. According to Rogozin, one of the goals of the Russian space industry today is to build a super-heavy rocket that would ensure the creation of a manned lunar station.
As for the rocket and the spaceship, there are two big issues about it. If it goes about unmanned exploration of the moon, Luna-25 and Luna-26 stations and so on, then these activities are part of the federal space program before 2025 that should be implemented soon, in 2017 and 2018.
“As for a manned flight to the moon, a breakthrough effort is required indeed, because existing launch vehicles and even launch vehicles of the near future are, unfortunately, unable to deliver Russian cosmonauts to the Moon. We need to develop new launch vehicles for the purpose. “There is Angara-A5V launcher, for example. This is a heavy carrier rocket with increased lifting capacity. This rocket could make a lunar mission possible, but this work is outside the federal space program, but we have the potential.”
“This is part of a larger Putin strategy to reestablish Russia as a significant political player and a major state in international affairs that needs to be taken into account,” Charles Hermann, professor of international affairs at the Bush School said. Hermann said politically and economically, Russia might experience problems in a moon mission. “It’s a long way until 2029, and there is not only the technological challenges of doing this but perhaps even greater is the financial one,” Hermann said.
However, experts point out that some of their rockets are dating back to 1960’s and in historical terms, Russia has not had a successful interplanetary mission since 1984. The Vega 2 to Venus remains their biggest accomplishment since then.
“Russian economy is incredibly dependent on petroleum at this point in time and if they don’t have a stronger economic base than they do now it may be difficult to sustain, to allocate, the kinds of resources to this project that it will require.” Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev intends to cut funding for the space program by 30%. Russia is now looking for collaboration with Europe for joint moon missions.
Roscosmos, the Russian federal space agency, in partnership with the European Space Agency have planned to cooperate in a sequence of missions to the moon that could lead to a possible permanent human settlement there.
Canada wants moon rover, space mining technology
NASA Outlines New Lunar Science, Human Exploration Missions
NASA is focused on an ambitious plan to advance the nation’s space program by increasing science activities near and on the Moon and ultimately returning humans to the surface. Its Lunar orbit and surface objective is to establish a long-term presence in the vicinity of and on the Moon, realizing science and human exploration advancement, while also enabling other National and commercial goals. As part of the President’s fiscal year 2019 budget proposal, NASA is planning a new Moon-focused exploration campaign that starts with a series of progressive commercial robotic missions.
NASA’s Catalyst program is urging companies to make “soft landings” on the surface with probes and ships. NASA calls for bids to mine in space. NASA recently announced that for human astronauts, the path to Mars will include a stop at the moon, where the agency may build a facility currently being called the Deep Space Gateway. That structure could serve as a kind of way station between the Earth and the Red Planet. (The concept for this particular lunar way station has been around for at least five years.)
“The Moon will play an important role in expanding human presence deeper into the solar system,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Coupled with the capabilities enabled by the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, these missions will usher in a new era of exploration of the Moon and its resources, and provide a training ground for human missions to Mars.”
NASA plans to enlist a series of commercial robotic landers and rockets to meet lunar payload delivery and service needs. The agency will release a draft request for proposals this spring to initiate commercial lunar payload service contracts for surface delivery as early as 2019.
NASA is also interested in understanding and developing requirements for future human landers. By developing landers with mid-size payload capacity (500 to 1,000 kg – roughly the size of a smart car) first, this will allow evolution toward large-scale human-rated lunar landers (5,000 to 6,000 kg). Additionally, this class of lander can support larger payloads to the Moon addressing science and exploration objectives such as sample return, resource prospecting, demonstrations of in-situ resource utilization (ISRU), and others.
Both the president and the vice president said that NASA’s focus on its human spaceflight program will help create jobs for the country, and both men briefly mentioned the defense and military applications of the space program. “As everyone here knows, establishing a renewed American presence on the moon is vital to achieve our strategic objectives and the objectives outlined by our National Space Council,” Pence said. “In pursuing these objectives, Mr. President, we will, as you said, enhance our national security and our capacity to provide for the common defense of the people of the United States of America.”
Robert Lightfoot, NASA’s acting administrator, said he thinks the new directive could provide “a sense of urgency” to NASA’s spaceflight pursuits. He noted that there are “a lot of people that want to help [NASA]” reach those goals, including international space partners and commercial space partners in the U.S. “And if we can all stay focused on the same goal, we’ll be okay,” Lightfoot said.
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