How Much Damage Will Lunar Landings Do to Lunar Orbiters?

Artist rendering of an Artemis astronaut exploring the Moon’s surface during a future mission. Credit: NASA

Multiple missions are destined for the Moon in this decade. These include robotic and crewed missions conducted by space agencies, commercial space entities, and non-profit organizations. The risks and hazards of going to the Moon are well-documented, thanks to Apollo Program and the six crewed missions it sent to the lunar surface between 1969 and 1972. But unlike the “footprints and flags” of yesterday, the plan for the coming decade is to create a “sustained program of lunar exploration and development.”

This means establishing a greater presence on the Moon, building infrastructure (like habitats, power systems, and landing pads), and missions regularly coming and going. Given the low-gravity environment on the Moon, spacecraft kick up a lot of lunar regolith (aka., “Moon dust”) during takeoff and landing. This regolith is electrostatically-charged, very abrasive, and wreaks havoc on machines and equipment. In a recent study, NASA researchers Philip T. Metzger and James G. Mantovani considered how much damage all this regolith could inflict on orbiting spacecraft.

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A 1-Stage, Fully Reusable Lunar Lander Makes the Most Sense for Returning Humans to the Moon

Credit: NASA

When astronauts return to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo Era, they will be relying on a number of mission elements to get them there and back safely. This includes the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft that will launch a crew of four and carry them to the Moon. But until recently, the question of how they will get to and from the surface remained unresolved, as there were a few options.

To determine which would be best in terms of performance and cost, researchers from Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) in Moscow and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) reviewed several dozen proposals. In the end, they determined that a one-stage reusable lunar lander that could transport astronauts to and from the orbiting Lunar Gateway was the best option.

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Apollo 10’s “Snoopy” Lunar Lander May Have Been Found in Space

The Apollo 10 lunar module abou to dock with the command module. Image Credit: NASA

Apollo 11 was the first mission to land people on the lunar surface. But Apollo relied on a lot of predecessor missions to lay the groundwork for the successful mission to the Moon. One of them was Apollo 10, the fourth crewed mission in the Apollo program.

Apollo 10 was an almost complete mission that including everything that Apollo 11 had, except for an actual landing on the Moon. It was a dress rehearsal, and was the second Apollo mission to orbit the Moon. It even had an Apollo Lunar Module that was flown to within 15 km of the lunar surface. But that module never landed, and eventually, after it rendezvoused with the command module and the crew disembarked, it was sent into orbit around the Sun.

And up until now, nobody knew where it was.

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