Last weekend, NASA canceled the unmanned Artemis I mission to the moon and back. The space agency will reportedly try again to launch the maiden mission to the moon with the gigantic Space Launch System (SLS) later this month or in October. Meanwhile, aided a distant world, China is moving forward with its program to put both robotic and possibly manned spacecraft on the lunar surface and keep up with NASA’s findings.
Asia’s rapidly growing space power has already made a number of impressive lunar leaps, but it will have to build on these in the coming years. Ambitious sample return missions, landings at the lunar south pole, test the ability to 3D print using regolith materials, and finally send astronauts on a short-term visit to our celestial neighbor are planned before the decade is out.
The next step, expected around 2024, is Chang’e-6 – an unprecedented attempt to collect rock samples from the furthest part of the moon.
The mission will build on two recent major space achievements. In 2019, China became the first country to safely land a spacecraft on the opposite side of the moon, a hemisphere that cannot be seen from Earth, as the moon is blocked by the tides. The mission was made possible by a relay satellite beyond the moon at Lagrange Earth-Moon point 2, where it can bounce signals between Chang’e-4 and ground stations in China.
Chang’e-5 in 2020 performed the first sampling of lunar material in over four decades. The complex mission of four spacecraft used an orbiter, lander, ascent vehicle, and return capsule to successfully transport 1,731 grams of lunar rocks to Earth. The automated rendezvous and docking in the lunar orbit of the orbiter and ascent spacecraft was also seen as a test of the technology to get astronauts out of the moon and back to Earth.
Chang’e-6 will again attempt to collect new samples, this time from the south pole-Aitken basin, a huge and ancient impact crater on the opposite side of the moon. Likewise, the scientific return of such a mission could be huge as its rocks have the potential to answer some significant questions about the moon’s geological past, says planetary scientist Katherine Joy of the University of Manchester, England.
“We think the basin formation event was so large that the lunar mantle may have been excavated tens of kilometers deep,” says Joy. Fragments of this mantle material from the depths of the moon would help us understand how the moon differentiated early in its history, the nature of its interior, and how the volcanism on the opposite side of the moon is different or similar to that on the side. Neighbor .
Chang’e-7, also slated for 2024, will examine a different set of questions geared towards lunar resources. It will aim for the lunar south pole, a region where NASA’s Artemis 3 manned mission is also trying to land.
The mission will involve a flotilla of spacecraft, including a new relay satellite, an orbiter, a lander, a rover and a small “jumping” spacecraft designed to inspect permanently shadowed craters thought to contain water ice that could be used in the future to provide breathing oxygen, rocket fuel, or drinking water to lunar explorers.
Following this, Chang’e-8 is expected to be launched around 2027 to test resource utilization in situ and conduct other technological experiments and tests such as oxygen extraction and 3D printing related to the construction of a permanent moon base. , for both robots and crew, in the 1930s, called the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS).
The upcoming Chang’e-6, 7 and 8 missions are expected to be launched on China’s largest current rocket, the Long March 5. But, as with NASA and Artemis, China will need its own megarazzi to carry out lunar exploration. human and finally, perhaps, manned lunar bases a reality.
Partly in reaction to SpaceX’s findings, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the country’s leading space contractor, is developing a new rocket specifically for launching astronauts beyond low Earth orbit.
The “next-generation crew launch vehicle” will essentially bring together three main stages of Long March 5 (which will be no small feat of engineering), while also improving the performance of its kerosene engines. The result will be a rocket about 90 meters tall, similar to a Long March version of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, capable of sending 27 tons of payload into translunar injection.
Two rocket launches by 2030, according to leading Chinese space officials, will be able to take a couple of astronauts to the moon for a 6-hour stay. This mission also requires the development of a lunar lander and a new spacecraft capable of keeping astronauts safe in deep space.
For the construction of infrastructure on the moon, China looks to the future Long March 9, an SLS-class rocket capable of delivering 50 tons in translunar injection. The project will require the CASC to make progress in a number of areas, including the production of new larger rocket bodies up to 10 meters in diameter, the mastery of huge, high-thrust rocket engines, and the construction of a new rocket complex. launch in Wenchang, Hainan Island, to handle the monster.
Once again NASA is leading humanity’s journey to the moon, but China’s steady buildup of long-term capabilities and ambitions means it probably won’t be far behind.
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