Science

SpaceX will launch two spacecraft to the moon tonight

SpaceX will launch two spacecraft to the moon tonight

Increase / The Hakuto-R spacecraft is enclosed in the Falcon 9 fairing.

ispace

It was a busy second half of the year for the Moon. Since the end of June, three US rockets have launched cargo to the moon, with another scheduled for early Friday morning.

In these four launches—two on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, one on Rocket Lab’s Electron and one on NASA’s Space Launch System—there have been a total of 15 spacecraft sent to fly by, enter orbit, or land there. . The most significant of them, of course, is NASA’s Orion spacecraftwhich is scheduled to return to Earth on December 11.

This represents a remarkable renaissance in lunar exploration. Consider that from 1973 to 2022, NASA and the United States sent a total of 15 spacecraft to the moon over a period of five decades. Now, thanks to a mix of commercial, academic and government payloads, US rockets will launch 15 spacecraft to the moon in about five months.

Hakuto-R

Next up is the Falcon 9 rocket, which is scheduled to launch Thursday at 3:37 a.m. ET (8:37 UTC) from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Its primary payload is a commercial spacecraft and lander known as the Hakuto-R mission, developed by a Japanese company called ispace.

The mission was delayed a day after SpaceX said it needed time for “additional checks,” a generic term the company uses when it needs more time to resolve various technical issues with a launch. This relatively small lander will spend about three months following a long trajectory to reach the moon, allowing it to get there using a minimal amount of fuel.

With the Hakuto-R vehicle, ispace aims to become the first private company to successfully land a spacecraft on another world. And if the company is successful, Japan would become the fourth country (after the United States, the Soviet Union and China) to land on the moon.

Landing on the moon is a big challenge. In recent years, efforts by India and an Israeli-backed organization, SpaceIL, have failed to achieve a soft touch on the moon.

Among the payloads carried by the Hakuto-R lander is the Rashid lunar rover, built by the United Arab Emirates. This is a small rover, weighing about 10 kg, which will carry two high-resolution cameras as an experiment to study the stickiness of lunar dust.

More to come

NASA is also sending a spacecraft to the moon on this Falcon 9 launch as a secondary passenger. This tiny Lunar Lamp mission, a briefcase-sized 6U CubeSat, is bound to a nearly rectilinear orbit around the Moon, similar to that of a private the CAPSTONE spacecraft entered earlier this fall.

The goal of this mission will be to search for ice on the moon. Four lasers will emit near-infrared light that is easily absorbed by water ice. The greater the absorption observed in lunar craters, the more ice there is likely to be. This mission should help inform future robotic and human efforts to explore lunar ice deposits.

As busy as this period has been for the Moon, there is much more to come. During the first half of 2023, two commercial American companies – Intuitive Machines and Astrobotic – are expected to attempt to land on the moon for NASA. India, Japan, and possibly even Russia also plan to launch missions to the moon in 2023.

Later this decade, of course, NASA is building its entire Artemis program around lunar exploration, including human missions and the possibility of settlement later this decade. China also wants to lead an ambitious program to the moon, possibly landing its own astronauts in about a decade.

After 50 years, the moon is back.



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