On February 21, 2019, NASA announced that it had selected a dozen loads of scientific instruments and technology demonstrations and that it was considering flying on the moon with rockets and commercial private landers. . The missions, scheduled for 2019, are a first step toward achieving the space agency's overriding goal of sending astronauts back to the moon via a commercial spacecraft in 2028.
NASA's renewed focus on the moon reflects a December 2017 policy change by the Trump administration, which decided that the space agency had to return to the moon, which had been visited by Apollo 17 astronauts in September. December 1972.
From the moon to March
Previously, the Obama administration had abandoned a planned lunar mission, partly because of the costs, to focus on a mission on Mars in the 2030s.
Steve Clarke, Associate Associate Administrator of Exploration at NASA's Science Missions Directorate, said missions led by Lunar Payload Commercial Services (CLPS) would include a combination of instruments and equipment. technological demonstrations. "We want to use a mix as much as possible, so that they can collectively provide data to the scientific community and to the people who are designing the next human lander," he says.
The scientific instruments sent to the moon "will attempt to characterize the lunar surface, search for hydrogen molecules and actual traces of water or ice water in the ground, and look for various other elements present on the lunar surface, "explains Clarke.
But these studies will do more than just enrich our knowledge of Earth's natural satellite. "We know that there are volatile substances at the moon 's poles, and quite frankly, this water ice could represent the fuel of a rocket," said in a statement. NASA Director Jim Bridenstine. "If we have the ability to generate rocket fuel from the surface of the moon and put it into orbit around the moon, we could use it to build a fuel depot."
On the technology side, a payload will include solar energy technology. "We seek to advance the science and engineering of solar cells to make them more efficient," Clarke said. This will benefit space missions that depend on solar energy, but the work will also have applications on Earth. Another tested technology involves entry, descent and landing (EDL) systems, which will help improve the design of future lunar landers, including the human lander that will once again drive astronauts to the moon's surface. .
Build a lunar orbital station
NASA's long-term plan also includes the construction of a lunar orbital station in the 2020s, which will serve as a platform for lunar surface observation and mission organization. # 39; inhabited exploration. With instruments on the lunar surface and orbiting the moon, "we will have two different points of view," explains Clarke.
Unlike the Apollo program, the commercial space industry will be heavily involved in efforts, transporting astronauts to the orbital station and up to the surface. The agency has already announced plans to work with space companies to develop reusable lunar landing gear. These spacecraft could shuttle between the lunar orbital platform and the surface of the moon.
Dale Skran, executive vice president of the National Space Society, a nonprofit group whose goal is to promote an invading civilization, says in an email that NSS supports NASA's strategy. "The fundamental benefit of a lunar orbital station in supporting lunar exploration and development is that it can be operated by a" gas station " where reusable lunar landers dock and are refueled, "he says. NASA's recently announced human lander reference design, which features two reusable components (the climb phase and a space tug) as well as a "tanker" to bring fuel to the orbital station lunar is a constructive but partial step in this direction. "
At this point, Skran says putting "boots on the moon" in the near future should no longer be seen as a desirable goal in itself, but rather as a way to promote a broader plan of space colonization. . "Humans on the moon should develop organically from what we do on the moon, and not appear as a" stuntman "imitating Apollo," he says. "Two potential targets for lunar return include the extraction of oxygen to fuel future trips to Mars and the construction of a radio telescope on the" dark side "of the moon to take advantage of the silent silence The two targets will almost certainly include humans on the lunar surface, but the boots are not the primary objective. "