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 Orionspacecraft 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.
It’s no exaggeration to say that NASA’s plans to return astronauts to the Moon has faced its share of challenges. From its inception, Project Artemis has set some ambitious goals, up to and including placing “the first woman and next man” on the Moon by 2024. Aside from all the technical challenges that this entails, there’s also the question of budgets. As the Apollo Era taught us, reaching the moon in a few years doesn’t come cheap!
Funding is an especially sticky issue right now because of the fact that we’re in an election year and NASA may be dealing with a new administration come Jan of 2021. In response, NASA announced a budget last week (Mon. Sept 21st) that put a price tag on returning astronauts to the Moon. According to NASA, it will cost taxpayers $28 billion between 2021 and 2025 to make sure Project Artemis’ meets its deadline of 2024.
In less than four years, NASA plans to send astronauts back to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo era (Project Artemis). But this time, NASA plans to build the infrastructure needed to ensure a “sustainable program” of lunar exploration. In short, we’re going back to the Moon and this time, we plan to stay! To help them get there, the agency has partnered with commercial aerospace companies to provide logistical support.
In addition, NASA recently named three companies to develop vehicles for the Artemis missions that will be capable of landing astronauts on the lunar surface. They include the commercial space powerhouses SpaceX and Blue Origin, as well as the Alabama-based Dynetics, all of whom are tasked with developing Human Landing Systems (HLS) that can be deployed from their respective heavy launch systems (or another commercial provider).
However, in recent years, these plans have been altered considerably to prioritize “returning to the Moon.” Formally named Project Artemis, VP Pence emphasized in March of 2019 that NASA must return to the Moon by 2024, even if it meant some shakeups were needed. In the latest news, NASA has indicated that the Lunar Gateway is no longer a priority, as part of a plan to “de-risk” the mandatory tasks associated with Artemis.
Reflecting its growth as a global power, India has achieved some impressive progress in space lately. In the past decade, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has sent robotic spacecraft into orbit, to the Moon, and also to Mars. And today, they made their first attempt at a soft lunar landing by sending the Vikram lander towards the surface of the Moon.
This move would have made India the fourth nation in the world to land a spacecraft on the lunar surface. The landing sequence went as planned until the lander reached an altitude of 2.1 km (1.3 mi) above the surface. Unfortunately, communications with the lander was lost at that point and it is unclear whether the lander crashed. At the moment, the ISRO is analyzing data collected by the orbiter to determine what happened.
In May of 2019, NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) selected Astrobotic to fulfill a contract to deliver 14 payloads to the Moon by 2021. The Pittsburg-based aerospace company plans to do this using their Peregrine Lander, a robotic lunar spacecraft that is capable of delivering payloads to the Moon for the competitive price of $1.2 million per kilogram (~$544,300 per lbs).
To get the Peregrine lander and NASA’s payloads to the Moon, Astrobiotic recently announced that it would be relying on United Launch Alliance (ULA) to provide launch services. ULA will do this using their next-generation heavy-lift launch system known as the Vulcan Centaur rocket, which will also be the inaugural launch of this new vehicle.
The China National Space Administration (CNSA) has released some new photos and updated the world on their lunar rover mission. The Yutu-2 rover is working its way into the history books on the lunar far side, exploring the Von Karman crater. It’s third lunar day is now in the record books.
In the coming decades, NASA has ambitious plans to send astronauts back to the Moon and conduct the first crewed mission to Mars. In order to accomplish these lofty goals, the agency is investing in cutting-edge technology and partnering with major aerospace companies to create the necessary spacecraft and mission components.
One such component, which will allow astronauts to travel to and from the lunar surface, is Lockheed Martin’s concept for a reusable lunar lander. The concept was presented today at the 69th annual International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Bremen, Germany, where space agency and industry experts were treated to the latest in space exploration advancements.
Portion of 1st panorama around Chang’e-3 landing site after China’s Yutu rover drove onto the Moon’s surface on Dec. 15, 2013. The images were taken by Chang’e-3 lander following Dec. 14 touchdown. Panoramic view was created from screen shots of a news video assembled into a mosaic. Credit: CNSA/CCTV/screenshot mosaics & processing by Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer
See the complete panorama below Story updated[/caption]
China’s inaugural Chang’e-3 lunar lander has snapped the missions first panoramic view of the touchdown spot at Mare Imbrium.
To make it easier to see and sense ‘the new view from the Moon’, we have created screen shots from the rather low resolution TV broadcast and assembled them into a photo mosaic of the landing site – see above and below mosaics by Marco Di Lorenzo and Ken Kremer.
The Chang’e-3 mothership imaged the stark lunar terrain surrounding the spacecraft after the ‘Yutu’ rover perched atop successfully drove all six wheels onto the moon’s surface on Dec. 15, barely 7 hours after the momentous landing on Dec. 14.
Chinese scientists then pieced them together to form the lander’s first panoramic view of the lunar surface, according to CCTV.
“This picture is made of 60 pictures taken 3 times by the rover. The rover used three angles: vertical, 15 degrees tilted up, and 15 degrees down…so that we get an even farther view,” said Liu Enhai, Designer in Chief, Chang’E-3 Probe System, in a CCTV interview
The panoramic view shows ‘Yutu’ and its wheel tracks cutting a semi circular path at least several centimeters deep into the loose lunar regolith at the landing site at Mare Imbrium, located near the Bay of Rainbows.
A significant sized crater, several meters wide, is seen off to the left of Yutu and located only about 10 meters away from the Chang’e-3 lander.
Several more craters are visible in the pockmarked surface around the lander.
Mission leaders purposely equipped the lander with terrain recognition radar and software so that it could steer clear of hazards like craters and large boulders and find a safe spot to land.
Indeed just prior to touchdown, the lander actually hovered at an altitude of 100 meters for about 20 seconds to avoid the craters and rock fields which could have doomed the mission in its final moments.
See the dramatic Chang’e-3 landing video in my earlier report – here.
Here is our annotated screen shot from the landing video showing the eventual landing site in the distance:
“The rover reached the point of X after it went down from the lander, then it established contact with the ground. Then it went to point A, where the rover and lander took pictures of each other. Then it reached point B, where it’s standing now.” said Liu Jianjun, Deputy Chief Designer, Chang’E-3 Ground System, to CCTV.
China thus became only the 3rd country in the world to successfully soft land a spacecraft on Earth’s nearest neighbor after the United States and the Soviet Union.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and space agency leaders have hailed the Chang’e-3 mission as a complete success for China.
The Yutu rover, which translates as ‘Jade Rabbit’ will use its science instruments to survey the moon’s geological structure and composition on a minimum three month mission to locate the moon’s natural resources for use by potential future Chinese astronauts.
The lander will conduct in-situ exploration at the landing site for at least one year, say Chinese officials.
Hopefully, China will quickly start releasing full resolution imagery and video taken by the Chang’e-3 lander and Yutu rover at a dedicated mission website, like NASA does, rather than issuing photos of imagery from projection screens and televisions – so that we all can grasp the full beauty of their tremendous lunar feat.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Chang’e-3, LADEE, MAVEN, MOM, Mars rover and more news.
Ken Kremer Landing site of Chinese lunar probe Chang’e-3 on Dec. 14, 2013. [/caption]
The European Space Agency is aiming for the Moon with their Lunar Lander mission, anticipated to arrive on the lunar surface in 2018. Although ESA successfully put a lander on Titan with the Huygens probe in 2005, this will be the first European spacecraft to visit the surface of Earth’s Moon.
Although Lunar Lander will be an unmanned robotic explorer, the mission will be a forerunner to future human exploration of the Moon as well as Mars. Lunar Lander will use advanced technologies for autonomous landing and will be able to determine the best location for touchdown on its own, utilizing lasers to avoid obstacles on the Moon’s surface.
With no GPS on the Moon, Lunar Lander will navigate by digitally imaging the surface on the fly. Landing will be accomplished via thrusters, which were successfully tested earlier this year at a test chamber in Germany.
Lunar Lander’s destination will be the Moon’s south pole, where no exploration missions have ever landed. Once on the lunar surface, the Lander will investigate Moon dust using a robotic arm and a suite of onboard diagnostic instruments, sending data and images back to scientists on Earth for further study.
Watch a video of the Lunar Lander mission below, from launch to landing.
Read more about Lunar Lander on the ESA site here.