The Moon's Southern Ice is Relatively Young

Elevation data of the Moon showing the South Pole-Aitken Basin. Credit: NASA/GSFC/University of Arizona
Elevation data of the Moon showing the South Pole-Aitken Basin. Credit: NASA/GSFC/University of Arizona

Around the Moon’s southern polar region lies the South Pole-Aitken Basin, the single-largest impact basin on the lunar surface. Within this basin, there are numerous permanently shadowed regions (PSRs) that are thought to have trapped water ice over time. These deposits are crucial to future missions like the Artemis Program that will lead to the creation of permanent infrastructure. This water ice will supply crews with a steady source of water for drinking and irrigation and the means for chemically producing oxygen gas and rocket fuel.

For scientists, these PSRs are believed to have emerged when the Moon began migrating away from Earth roughly 2.5 billion years ago. Over time, these regions acted as “cold sinks” and trapped water ice that existed on the lunar surface at the time. However, according to a recent study led by the Planetary Science Institute (PSI), the Moon’s permanently shadowed areas arose less than 2.2 billion years ago and trapped ice even more recently than that. These findings could significantly impact future crewed missions as they indicate that the water ice found in lunar craters could be of more recent origin.

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China Reveals Its Lunar Lander Design

Visualization of the ILRS, from the CNSA Guide to Partnership (June 2021). Credit: CNSA

Last May, as part of the nation’s growing presence in space, the China National Space Agency (CNSA) announced that it had established a Human Lunar Space Program that would send crewed missions to the Moon and culminate in the creation of a lunar base. This came shortly after China and Russia announced that they would be collaborating on future lunar missions, which included the creation of a base around the southern polar region. In June 2022, they announced that this base would be named the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) and released a guide explaining how international partners could join.

On Thursday, August 31st, the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) released artists’ renderings of their next-generation spacecraft and lunar lander. The spacecraft will consist of two sections, a reentry capsule, and a service section, while the lunar lander will include a landing section and a propulsion section. According to a statement released by the Agency, these vehicles will deliver crews to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and allow China to send crewed missions to the lunar surface. The release of these images confirms what has been suspected for some time: that China fully intends to land taikonauts on the Moon before 2030.

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Spacecraft Could Shuttle Astronauts and Supplies to and From the Moon on a Regular Basis

Illustration of the flight path of the Artemis II mission. Credit: NASA

Multiple space agencies plan to send astronauts, cosmonauts, and taikonauts to the Moon in the coming years, with the long-term goal of establishing a permanent human presence there. This includes the NASA-led Artemis Program, which aims to create a “sustained program of lunar exploration and development” by the decade’s end. There’s also the competing Russo-Chinese International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) effort to create a series of facilities “on the surface and/or in orbit of the Moon” that will enable lucrative research.

Beyond these government-agency-led programs, there are many companies and non-government organizations (NGOs) hoping to conduct regular trips to the Moon, either for the sake of “lunar tourism” and mining or to build an “International Moon Village” that would act as a spiritual successor to the International Space Station (ISS). These plans will require a lot of cargo and freight moving between Earth and the Moon well into the next decade, which is no easy task. To address this, a team of U.S./UK researchers recently released a research paper on the optimum trajectories for traveling between Earth and the Moon.

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A Massive Solar Storm was Detected on Earth, Mars, and the Moon

Giant solar eruption felt on Earth, Moon and Mars. Credit: ESA

A coronal mass ejection erupted from the Sun on October 28th, 2021, spreading solar energetic particles (SEPs) across a volume of space measuring more than 250 million km (155.34 million mi) wide. This means that the event was felt on Earth, Mars, and the Moon, which was on the opposite side of the Sun at the time. It was also the first time that a solar event was measured simultaneously by robotic probes on Earth, Mars, and the Moon, which included ESA’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and Eu:CROPIS orbiter, NASA’s Curiosity rover and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), and China’s Chang’e-4 lander.

The ESA’s Solar Orbiter, Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), and BepiColombo missions were also caught by the outburst and provided additional measurements of this solar event. The study of Solar Particle Events (SPE) – aka. solar flares – and “space weather” phenomena are vital to missions operating in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) – for example, crews living and working on the International Space Station (ISS). But it is especially vital for missions destined for locations beyond LEO and cislunar space, including Project Artemis and the many proposals for sending astronauts to the Moon and Mars in the coming years.

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NASA Astronauts Get a New Ride at Kennedy Space Center

NASA’s new custom-designed, fully electric, environmentally friendly crew transportation vehicles for the upcoming Artemis missions, which were delivered to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on July 11, 2023. These new vehicles will ferry Artemis astronauts to Launch Complex 39B for their missions beginning with Artemis II, and were delivered by the manufacturer, Canoo Technologies Inc. (Credit: NASA/Isaac Watson)

In its continued support for the Artemis missions, a three fully-electric, environmentally friendly, and specially designed vehicles were recently delivered to NASA for the purpose of ferrying future Artemis astronauts from their crew quarters to historic Launch Pad 39B before their journey to the Moon. The vehicles were built and delivered by Canoo Technologies Inc. based in Torrance, California, and comes just over a year after NASA awarded Canoo the contract to provide the new vehicles, and almost two years since NASA put out a call for proposals.

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Does Beaming Power in Space Make Sense at the Moon?

Greater Earth Lunar Power Station. Credit: ESA

Space-based solar power (SBSP) is considered one of the most promising technologies for addressing Climate Change. The concept calls for satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to collect power without interruption and beam it to receiving stations on Earth. This technology circumvents the main limiting factor of solar energy, which is how it is subject to the planet’s diurnal cycle and weather. While the prospect of SBSP has been considered promising for decades, it’s only in recent years that it has become practical, thanks to the declining costs of sending payloads to space.

However, the technology has applications beyond providing Earth with abundant clean energy. The European Space Agency (ESA) is also investigating it as a means of proving power on the Moon through the “Clean Energy – New Ideas for Solar Power from Space” study, which recently yielded a technology demonstrator known as the Greater Earth Lunar Power Station (GEO-LPS). This technology could provide a steady supply of power for future operations on the Moon, which include creating a permanent lunar base like the ESA’s proposed Moon Village.

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NASA Artemis DIMPLE Instrument Suite to Explore Moon’s Mysterious Volcanic Features

Credit: NASA

NASA recently selected a new science payload that will travel to the Moon through a series of robotic missions via the agency’s Artemis program. This instrument suite, known as the Dating an Irregular Mare Patch with a Lunar Explorer (DIMPLE), will have the task of studying the Ina Irregular Mare Patch, also known as Ina, which is a small depression that could provide insights into the Moon’s volcanic history. It was discovered using orbital images from the Apollo 15 crew, and despite several past studies, its origin remains unclear.

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Artemis Accords Adds 25th, 26th, and 27th Signatory Countries

The current list of the 27 signatory countries for the Artemis Accords. (Credit: NASA)

NASA recently welcomed the newest signatories of the Artemis Accords as Spain, Ecuador, and India became the 25th, 26th, and 27th countries, respectively, to sign on to the historic agreement for cooperation and partnership for space exploration, specifically pertaining to NASA’s Artemis program.

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Astronauts Will Be Tracking Dust Into the Lunar Gateway. Is This a Problem?

Artist's impression of astronauts on the lunar surface, as part of the Artemis Program. Credit: NASA
Artist's impression of astronauts on the lunar surface, as part of the Artemis Program. Credit: NASA

Lunar regolith (aka. Moondust”) is a major hazard for missions heading to the Moon. It’s everywhere on the surface – 5 to 10 meters (~16.5 to 33 feet) in depth in some places – not to mention jagged and sticky! During the Apollo missions, astronauts learned how this dust adhered to everything, including their spacesuits. Worse, it would get tracked back into their Lunar Modules (LMs), where it stuck to surfaces and played havoc with electronics and mechanical equipment, and even led to long-term respiratory problems.

This is a major concern for the Artemis Program, which aims to establish a “sustained program of lunar exploration and development.” One of the key elements of this program is the Lunar Gateway, a lunar habitat that will orbit the Moon for a planned 15 years and facilitate long-term missions to the surface. The impact that regolith introduced by astronauts returning from the surface will have is not well understood. In a recent paper, a NASA-led team of researchers created a physics-based model to asses how regolith could impact the habitat over time.

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If We Can Master Artificial Photosynthesis, We Can Thrive in Space

Illustration of a photobioreactor as a means of growing building materials on Mars. Credit: Joris Wegner/ZARM/Universität Bremen

By 2030, multiple space agencies will have sent astronauts to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo Program ended over 50 years ago. These programs will create lasting infrastructure, like the Lunar Gateway, Artemis Base Camp, Moon Village, and the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS). In the ensuing decade, the first crewed missions to Mars are expected to occur, culminating with the creation of the first human outposts on another planet. Commercial ventures also want to establish habitats in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), enabling everything from asteroid mining to space tourism.

One of the biggest challenges for this renewed era of space exploration (Space Age 2.0) is ensuring that humans can remain healthy while spending extended periods in space. Foremost among them is ensuring that crews have functioning life support systems that can provide a steady supply of breathable air, which poses its own technical challenges. In a recent study, a team of researchers led by Katharina Brinkert of the University of Warwick described how artificial photosynthesis could lead to a new type of life support system that is smaller, lighter, easier, and more cost-effective to send to space.

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