In 2023, humanity will aim for the Moon: here are the planned space missions

After Artemis I, and before Artemis II, the Moon once again becomes the center of the space world. In 2023, no manned mission is planned but the missions are numerous if all goes as planned.

2022 was the year of humanity’s return to the Moon. Almost. Because if no human returned to see our satellite, there was Artemis I and its habitable ship Orion which made a short turn in orbit before returning to Earth. And before Artemis II which will repeat this operation, but with humans on board, let’s take a look at the missions planned for 2023. No manned project, but the Moon is going to witness rather intense activity.

NASA prepares Artemis II

NASA keeps sending everything and anything to our satellite. Alongside its Artemis program, the American space agency is also developing the CLPS program for Commercial Lunar Payload Services, which consists of transporting scientific instruments through private companies. In short, NASA buys a place for its equipment on board a machine built by an outside industrialist.

A Lockheed Martin lunar lander concept. // Source: NASA

“It’s logical in the mind of NASA, explains Jean Blouvac, Exploration, and Manned Flight thematic manager at CNES (National Center for Space Studies). Their idea is to develop an economy beyond low orbit, extending it to the Moon. There is a desire to include the industry by giving it a place in the extension of the activity“. 

Concretely, this translates into several devices that will transport scientific payloads to the Moon. Among them, is Nova-C, a lander built by Intuitive Machines, which will have to drop several devices, including an ice extractor, in the hope of finding something to release water on the Moon.

Within the year, there should also be Peregrine, another lander developed this time by Astrobiotic technology. He will have on him about 100 kilos of equipment with different scientific instruments. Because yes, even if all this may look like purely industrial projects, science is not forgotten. “It’s a situation of opportunity, summarizes Jean Blouvac. There is a desire to imagine services such as transport or the extraction of resources, but we also take advantage of this to try to get to know the Moon better. All of this is consistent with the desire to establish a more sustainable human presence there“. 

These missions will therefore provide useful material for studying the Moon, but they will also serve to gain experience in landing techniques, which are still a real challenge today.

Besides that, NASA will continue to work on its manned program. The year 2023 will certainly be devoted to the study of the data collected from Artemis I, in order to prepare the sequel from 2024.

Towards an Emirates-Japan-France alliance

In 2023, the United States will not be the only one on the Moon, far from it. After the Chinese rover Yutu 2, another vehicle will soon land. This is Rashid 1. This tiny rover of barely ten kilos was already launched on December 11, but it will not arrive at its destination until March. Rashid is the result of the United Arab Emirates’ first lunar mission. The country, which has already had success reaching Mars in 2021 with the Hope probe, continues to make its mark on the international space landscape. This mission was built in partnership with the Japanese firm iSpace, which built a lander named Hakuto-R intended to deposit small payloads on the surface of the Moon.

Source: MBR Space Center

Japan, for its part, has another lunar mission in its pipeline for 2023. SLIM is a 730-kilogram lander with a camera responsible for observing lunar rocks up close. The idea is to determine how the Moon was formed by studying rock fragments on the surface that could have come up from the mantle. But science is also only secondary there because the main goal is to improve the technology concerning the lunar landing, hoping to arrive within 100 meters of the target point.

The rise of space missions in Asia

“To land precisely, on terrain that is not flat, is always very complicated “, recognizes Jean Blouvac. “ It’s a very complex area that requires a lot of technology and learning. Not to mention the fact that it is necessary to build payloads capable of withstanding the very difficult conditions on the Moon”. 

With these difficulties, India has paid the price. In 2019, Chandrayaan-2 lost contact with Earth during its descent, a few hundred meters from the ground. But in 2023, ISRO, the Indian space agency, tries its luck again with Chandrayaan-3. A probe composed of a lander and a small rover, almost identical to what its unfortunate predecessor already offered. The orbiter, on the other hand, had been functioning properly and collecting data for about a year. Here too, the Chandrayaan-3 orbiter is made to last at least a year, while the rover should only travel the surface for two weeks.

The GSLV-Mk III rocket launched Chandrayaan-2. // Source: ISRO (cropped photo)

Finally, let’s finish with another Asian country that is embarking on the race for the Moon: South Korea. The Danuri mission was launched in August 2022, but it did not arrive in lunar orbit until December, and it is in February that it will really begin its scientific phase. It is an orbiter that must be placed at an altitude of about a hundred kilometers to take images of the lunar surface. In his package, high-resolution cameras, a spectrometer to analyze the chemical elements of the soil, and a magnetometer that is interested in the lunar magnetic field.

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