Moon Monday #66: ESA plans commercial Moon landings, initial NASA Artemis launches near, and more updates
If you’re reading this, take a moment to acknowledge the freedom that you have, and the privilege to indulge in the finer aspects of a topic not yet core to living itself. Just as I (must) acknowledge the sheer affordance of publishing this issue of Moon Monday, even if it was difficult to focus while writing it. In this so called modern time where a country feels entitled to invade another, misinformation spreads faster than usual, and provocation and thought-policing is normalized, I urge you to consider two things.
Do not post or share things, especially short takes, just to show that you care or are in the know. Vet a source before you do share something important. Despite what it seems like, reacting immediately is more likely to fuel more issues than solve them.
Identify something specific you can do to help in a tangible way. For most people, it isn’t a tweet or two. For example, I’m dissatisfied with the fact that my country abstained the UN Security Council’s call for an emergency session of the General Assembly on the conflict in Ukraine. Before you judge though, you should read up on India’s history of relations with all countries involved. Nevertheless, I’m personally not happy with my country’s overall response, and the one thing I could do as an observer is support relief efforts for people displaced from their homes. The UN Refugee Agency is accepting donations specifically to provide basic life-saving protection to families forced to leave their homes. Please consider doing so too if that’s the best you can do.
ESA has started to move pieces to forge a program similar to NASA CLPS, the latter of which has funded seven commercial landers across four companies so far to deliver the agency’s science and technology payloads to the Moon. ESA and OHB, a major European company who has been involved in several ESA Science missions, are soliciting international payloads for three Moon landing missions part of OHB’s Lunar Surface Access Service (LSAS) program. OHB’s first Moon mission is targeted for launch in 2025 and will land on the south pole, preferably in a region sunlit for months to extend mission lifetime beyond the usual 14 Earth days of non-polar missions. The lander, based on Israeli SpaceIL’s Beresheet lander, can carry up to 110 kilograms of payload to the lunar surface, or more to lunar orbit.
Last year in November 2021, just as ispace Japan was assembling the lander for their first Moon mission launch in 2022, ESA selected ispace’s European subsidiary and ArianeGroup for a potential commercial payload delivery to the Moon. If the selection is formalized this year, ispace could host ESA’s science instruments on their lunar landers and rovers in future missions. ESA intends such commercial Moon flights aided or funded by it to launch on their Ariane 6 rockets starting in 2024.
NASA will roll out the fully stacked SLS rocket plus Orion spacecraft to the launchpad on March 17 to test fueling and related procedures, rehearse several launch countdowns over a month right until T-10 seconds, and then defuel the rocket before rolling it back for final preparations. The test results will determine the actual launch date for the Artemis I mission to send an uncrewed Orion around the Moon and back, which would be no earlier than May.
The NASA-funded $10 million CAPSTONE spacecraft, built by Advanced Space, is undergoing operational tests before final preparations begin for its launch by May on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket. Since CAPSTONE won’t get enough of a push from the small rocket, it will instead be put on a fuel-saving 3-month ballistic lunar transfer that will take it out as far as 1.5 million kilometers before returning to the Moon and entering its final unique elliptical lunar orbit—the same one that the NASA-led Gateway space station will be in later in the decade.
CAPSTONE’s team will also collaborate with that of NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) to have both spacecraft communicate with each other and demonstrate autonomous navigation in lunar orbit, that is, without relying on ground stations on Earth. This is a capability key to efficient operations when many spacecraft will be around the Moon in the near future.
In May 2021, NASA awarded a total of $500,000 to 7 winning teams in Phase 1 of the agency's Watts on the Moon Challenge to design future power systems for sustainable human and robotic outposts on the Moon. NASA is now inviting both previous and new participants for the second phase with competitive awards up to $4.5 million to demonstrate efficient, low-mass prototypes in about 2.5 years which address technology gaps in power transmission and energy storage on the Moon and have a short path to flight-readiness.
India’s Chandrayaan-2 orbiter doesn’t just study the Moon’s surface but is also a solar telescope. While its Solar X-ray Monitor (XSM) has been previously used to study solar flares, the latest observations come from the Chandrayaan-2 Large Area Soft X-ray Spectrometer (CLASS) instrument. In January, CLASS detected two highly energetic proton emission events in the solar wind, the incessant stream of charged particles emanating from the Sun. NASA’s GOES-16 satellite couldn’t detect one of the two events because Earth’s magnetic field provided shielding from said particles. The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter being in lunar orbit could detect the particles, just as other solar observers outside Earth’s magnetic field can.
From August 4 through 7 in 1972, the Sun blurted out several bursts of flares right between the Apollo 16 and 17 missions to the Moon. Had the astronauts been in lunar orbit or on the surface, they could’ve faced damaging levels of radiation. This could, in turn, lead to increased cancer risk. As we prepare to send astronauts on much longer Moon missions and beyond, we’ll need to protect our explorers from such flaring and energetic particle events that reach Earth-Moon space in a matter of hours.
A rocket’s upper stage will impact the Moon’s farside, near the equator, on March 4 at approximately 12:25 UTC. The upper stage seems most likely to be from the rocket that launched China’s Chang’e 5-T1 mission in 2014, despite China denying the claim, and not a SpaceX Falcon 9 as first thought. NASA LRO will pass over the predicted impact site on March 28 and then again roughly a month later. The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter will be looking for visual signs too after March, and its mass spectrometer could pick up gas signatures in the Moon’s exosphere due to the impact. Due to our poor tracking of deep space objects, it will be very difficult to confirm what is it that actually hit the Moon.