Lighting Up the Moon’s Permanently Shadowed Craters

This illustration shows a solar reflector on a crater rim could deliver solar energy where it's needed in the bottom of permanently shadowed polar craters on the Moon. Image Credit: Texas A&M Engineering

The Moon’s polar regions are home to permanently shadowed craters. In those craters is ancient ice, and establishing a presence on the Moon means those water ice deposits are a valuable resource. Astronauts will likely use solar energy to work in these craters and harvest water, but the Sun never shines there.

What’s the solution? According to one team of researchers, a solar collector perched on the crater’s rim.

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Lunar Explorers Could Run to Create Artificial Gravity for Themselves

A close-up view of astronaut Buzz Aldrin's bootprint in the lunar soil, photographed with the 70mm lunar surface camera during Apollo 11's sojourn on the moon. There'll soon be more boots on the lunar ground, and the astronauts wearing those boots need a way to manage the Moon's low gravity and its health effects. Image by NASA

Few things in life are certain. But it seems highly probable that people will explore the lunar surface over the next decade or so, staying there for weeks, perhaps months, at a time. That fact bumps up against something we are certain about. When human beings spend time in low-gravity environments, it takes a toll on their bodies.

What can be done?

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Start Your Engines: NASA Picks 3 Teams to Work on Lunar Terrain Vehicle

Illustration: NASA's Lunar Terrain Vehicle concept
An artist's conception shows NASA's generic concept for the Lunar Terrain Vehicle. (NASA Illustration)

Some of the biggest names in aerospace — and the automotive industry — will play roles in putting NASA astronauts in the driver’s seat for roving around on the moon.

The space agency today selected three teams to develop the capabilities for a lunar terrain vehicle, or LTV, which astronauts could use during Artemis missions to the moon starting with Artemis 5. That mission is currently scheduled for 2029, three years after the projected date for Artemis’ first crewed lunar landing.

The teams’ leading companies may not yet be household names outside the space community: Intuitive Machines, Lunar Outpost and Venturi Astrolab. But each of those ventures has more established companies as their teammates.

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NASA Continues Testing its New Lunar Spacesuits

A spacesuit tester exploring how manoeuvrable it is and how easy pieces of rock can be picked up.
An Axiom Space engineer wearing the AxEMU (Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit) spacesuit kneels to collect simulated lunar samples using a scoop during testing at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Axiom Space

NASA’s Artemis mission objective is among other things, to get human beings back to the Moon. Much of the attention of late has been focussed on the rocket technology to get the astronauts there but as we progress from Artemis I to Artemis II – which aims to take a crew around the Moon and back before Artemis III lands them on the lunar surface – attention is shifting on the spacesuits the crew will wear. The new suits, built by Axiom Space are designed to provide the mobility and protection required on the surface and now, NASA has received samples and is testing them in simulated space environments. 

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This is How Astronauts Would Escape from the Artemis II Launch Pad

KSC Emergency Escape Baskets

Space exploration is a tricky and at times, dangerous business. The safety of the crews is of paramount importance and escape technology is always factored into spacecraft design. Whilst Artemis I did not require such provisions when it launched Artemis II with astronauts on board is being prepared with a ski-lift style escape system to take them far away from the launch pad. 

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NASA is Pushing Back its Moon Landings to 2026

I wasn’t around for the Apollo program that took human beings to the Moon. I would have love to have seen it all unfold though. With NASAs Artemis program the opportunity will soon be with us again to watch humans set foot on another world, just not for the first time. Alas NASA announced on Tuesday that the Moon landings which form part of Artemis 3, have been pushed back one year to 2026. 

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Plants Could Grow in Lunar Regolith Using Bacteria

Plants grown in a volcanic ash lunar simulant (left) compared with those grown in the lunar soil (right) Credit: UF/IFAS/Tyler Jones

In the next decade, NASA, China, and their international and commercial partners plan to establish habitats on the Moon. Through the Artemis Program, NASA will deploy the orbiting Lunar Gateway and the Artemis Base Camp on the lunar surface. Meanwhile, China (and its partner Roscosmos) will deploy the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), consisting of an orbital and surface element. The creation of this infrastructure will enable a “sustained program of lunar exploration and development” that could lead to a permanent human presence there.

To ensure that humans can work and live sustainably beyond Earth, astronauts and crews will need to be able to harvest local resources to see to their needs – in-situ resource utilization (ISRU). This includes using lunar water ice and regolith to grow plants, providing astronauts with food and an additional source of oxygen and biomass. To test the potential for growing plants on the Moon, a Chinese research team conducted a series of experiments where they grew tobacco plants in simulated lunar soil with the help of bacteria.

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NASA Wants to Learn to Live Off the Land on the Moon

Artist rendition of an In-situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) technology demonstration on the lunar surface. NASA is working with industry and academia to develop technologies for future production of fuel, water, or oxygen from local resources, thus advancing space exploration capabilities. (Credit: NASA)

In preparation for the upcoming Artemis missions to the lunar south pole, NASA recently solicited a Request for Information (RFI) from the lunar community to map out its future Lunar Infrastructure Foundational Technologies (LIFT-1) demonstration for developing In-situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) technologies as part of the agency’s ambitious Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative (LSII). The primary goal of LIFT-1, which is being driven by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), is to advance ISRU technologies for extracting oxygen from the lunar regolith, including manufacturing, harnessing, and storing the extracted oxygen for use by future astronauts on the lunar surface. Proposals for LIFT-1 became available to be submitted via NSPIRES on November 6, 2023, with a deadline of December 18, 2023.

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We Don't Know Enough About the Biomedical Challenges of Deep Space Exploration

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

Although humans have flown to space for decades, the missions have primarily been in low-Earth orbit, with just a handful of journeys to the Moon. Future missions with the upcoming Artemis program aim to have humans living and working on the Moon, with the hopes of one day sending humans to Mars.

However, the environments of the Moon and deep space present additional health challenges to astronauts over low-Earth orbit (LEO), such as higher radiation, long-term exposure to reduced gravity and additional acceleration and deceleration forces. A new paper looks at the future of biomedicine in space, with a sobering takeaway: We currently don’t know enough about the biomedical challenges of exploring deep space to have an adequate plan to ensure astronaut health and safety for the Artemis program.

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SpaceX Test Fires a Raptor Engine, Simulating a Lunar Landing

A Raptor Vacuum engine was successfully cold-started during a test in August 2023. Via SpaceX.

When NASA astronauts return to the surface of the Moon in the Artemis III mission, the plan is to use a modified SpaceX Starship as their lunar lander. NASA announced last week that SpaceX has now demonstrated an important capability of the vacuum-optimized Raptor engine that will be used for the lander: an extreme cold start.  

A test last month successfully confirmed the engine can be started in the frigid conditions of space, even when the vehicle has spent an extended time in space, where temperatures will drop lower than a shorter low-Earth orbit mission. The Raptor vacuum engine was chilled to mimic conditions after a long coast period in space, and then was successfully fired.  

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