NASA’s recent Artemis I mission involving an astronaut-ready spacecraft performing a flyby of the moon has helped to put our closest celestial neighbor in the spotlight once again.
Orion’s voyage, which concluded on December 11 after 25 days in space, comes ahead of five more missions targeting the moon in 2023, organized by multiple nations.
So let’s take a look at what to expect:
Japan is aiming 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 called 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.
The briefcase-sized Lunar Flashlight traveled to space with the Hakuto-R lander. The spacecraft won’t touch down on the lunar surface, but will instead spend the next three months using lasers to search for water ice in craters at the moon’s South Pole. These craters are permanently in shadow and so haven’t seen sunlight in billions of years.
This mission will involve a GSLV Mark 3 heavy lift launch vehicle propelling a landing module and robotic rover toward 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 lunar South Pole.
Russia is aiming to launch its Luna 25 mission in July following several delays. It involves putting a probe on the moon to collect samples from its southern polar region.
The main aims of the mission are to study the composition of the polar regolith, and to investigate the plasma and dust components of the lunar polar exosphere. The lander features a range of science instruments that include a robotic arm that will be used to remove and collect the surface regolith.
This ambitious mission has been pencilled in for 2023, though to be frank, 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, SpaceX has yet to test the Super Heavy. The first orbital flight of what will be the most powerful rocket ever to fly is expected to take place in early 2023. Even it goes according to plan, it seems unlikely that SpaceX will have everything ready to send the Starship and eight crewmembers 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 extended periods.
It’s also believed that the moon could one day act as a stepping stone 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 could be converted to rocket fuel to power those launches.