In anticipation of the first crewed lunar mission since the 1970s, NASA made an announcement last Friday that it will send equipment to the surface of the moon in 2020 and 2021. The equipment will perform scientific investigations for the first ever project that is set to change human lives in the future.
Earlier this year, NASA made a promise to take some astronauts back to the Moon in 2024, and at the same time, planned to reach Mars by 2033. Jim Bridenstine, NASA’s Administrator, said that the only way to move up the Mars landing is to make the Moon mission as soon as possible.
The US Space Agency agreed with President Donald Trump to ace up the timetable for the crewed lunar mission. It was shortened by four years from 2020 despite Vice President Mike Pence’s suggestion to extend the said timeline for the space organization to prepare more for the project.
Initially, the timeline for the Moon exploration is scheduled on 2028, but on May 13, Trump announced that his administration would upgrade the budget to “include an additional 1.6 billion dollars so that U.S can return to space in a BIG WAY.”
Today, NASA believes that the equipment will demonstrate advanced technologies for astronauts to land on the Moon by 2024. Thus, the agency has chosen three American companies namely: Astrobotic, Intuitive Machines, and Orbit Beyond — to send the equipment and other necessary instruments to the lunar surface as part of the Artemis lunar exploration program.
Astrobotic Technology is an American privately held company that is developing space robotics technology for lunar and planetary missions which based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It will target “Lacus Mortis,” a large crater on the near side of the Moon by July 2021. However, it is still unknown yet what rocket it would choose to deliver the equipment.
On the other hand, Intuitive Machines plans to land by July 2021 in “Oceanous Procellarum” — a dark spot on the Moon which is visible from Earth. It chose SpaceX to carry out its equipment. Intuitive Machines is a private American company headquartered in Houston, Texas. It provides safe and reliable autonomous system solutions for industrial, drones, spacecraft, and spacesuit modeling services.
While Orbit Beyond builds extensible and scalable technologies for lunar operation. It will land in “Mare Imbrium,” a lava plain in a lunar crater by September 2020. For this mission, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets will be used to launch the said equipment.
Each company has created lunar landers of different sizes and various shapes; one is believed to be taller, and the other two are more solid. These landers will deliver up to 23 small payloads of equipment provided by NASA. It will include materials that would gather information to help astronauts adjust, navigate, and protect themselves from radiation. Moreover, the potential payload will also comprise an instrument for conducting new research, and analyze what impact do human activities have on the moon.
As per the monetary award, NASA gave each company a sum of $77-97 million for further development of their landers. However, the agency’s standard should be met and materialized in the product, given the massive amount of money offered.
The last crewed mission happened 47 years ago, during the final year of Apollo mission. Apollo 17 took the 11th and 12th person to the surface of the moon and marked the end of the Apollo program, according to Space.com. This is why NASA, with the aid of the U.S government, wanted to come back on the lunar surface — not just to find more discoveries on the lunar surface but also to re-establish its name as the leading space agency in the world.
Knowing that China has landed twice on the Moon in recent years, last in 2013, and in January this year, the United States also wanted to take part in exploring the lunar surface. Although NASA regularly sent lunar probes into orbit, it is not enough to topple down China’s explorations. NASA has only two active missions today: the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the ARTEMIS probes.
On the other hand, China has currently sent out “Chang’e” probe and its motorized and most advanced robot called “Yutu-2.” They are the two probes that are active on the surface right now.
Despite pressures from competing agencies, NASA is confident to send their fundamental science and technology research on the lunar surface — which will help support sending the first woman and the next man to the Moon in approximately five years. For the three space robotics companies, Jim Bridenstine said that “investing in these commercial landing services also is another big step to build a marketable space economy beyond low-Earth orbit.”