Our post today is a bit of a departure from the norm where we alert readers to the data and identity hazards of our digital world. In this post, we are looking at the sudden fascination space agencies around the globe are showing in our nearest celestial neighbor, the Moon.
Luna must be relishing this new attention after being relegated to outright neglect following the completion of the Apollo Lunar Missions in 1972. Agencies turned their attention to projects like space stations, the Hubble and other telescopes, missions to Mars, and so forth.
In recent months, Israel’s Beresheet mission to put a lander on the Moon ended in a crash. China’s Chang’e 3 mission has successfully landed on the Moon with a rover and is studying the dark side of our celestial partner. Then, there is the announcement by the Trump Administration that NASA is going to put people back on the Moon by 2024, four years ahead of the original date. Shades of Apollo!
The NASA program will involve a deep space gateway and a habitable module that will support astronauts on the lunar surface for extended periods. The approach allows NASA to test how such habitats function, how they can be scaled up, and conduct live tests of equipment and systems that will be used on Mars.
The NASA program is named Artemis after the Greek goddess of the Moon and the twin sister of Apollo. No coincidence there. According to an article on the ExtremeTech website, NASA has placed the order for the power and propulsion segment/module of the Lunar Gateway space station. The unit is planned to be ready in 2022.
It uses solar power and an ion drive to maneuver and support the crew and provides 50 kilowatts (kW) of power, more than enough to support the crew and conduct experiments. By adding additional solar arrays, NASA feels they can generate as much as 90 kW. The ion drive uses 5-15% less fuel than a chemical propellant. This supports more extensive maneuvering as mission requirements dictate without larger fuel storage capabilities.
The following two conceptual illustrations are from NASA’s website. The first is the Gateway Space Station itself. It shows the completed Gateway with the Orion Crew Vehicle in a docking orientation. The power and propulsion is on the left, recognizable by its solar arrays. The second is of the propulsion segment by itself.
Getting the mission components into their position will be completed by the use of a NASA vehicle or one from a private contractor like Blue Origin, who, along with Draper, are working with Maxar Technologies to build the power and propulsion segment.
So, after nearly 50 years of neglect, our Moon is back in the limelight. This time, when people set down on the Moon, they are planning to stay a while. The Apollo moon landings were captivating and energizing, even with the crude technology of the day. Just imagine how exciting it will be with live streaming, the internet, and everything we have at our disposal today.