November 2021: Recap
Casio and Michelin join the ranks of lunar industry. A treasure map on the Moon.
My apologies for skipping last month’s newsletter. In this edition, I’ve combined October and November’s news into one.
Casio, the Japanese electronics company whose products include calculators, digital cameras and watches, will conduct an experiment next month with Japan’s space agency, JAXA, involving the application of its high-precision positioning system to support lunar rovers with the construction of a base on the Moon. To study the viability of its technology for this use, Casio will install an industrial camera on an automatically guided tractor to capture communication signals transmitted from multiple LED lights.1 2
NASA awarded Intuitive Machines $77.5 million to deliver 203 pounds (92 kg) of payloads to the lunar surface in 2024.3 This is the third task order that NASA has awarded to the Houston-based company as part of its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, totaling over $200 million. The company’s first two missions are currently scheduled for Q1 and Q4 2022.
Michelin, the French tire manufacturing company, has teamed up with Northrop Grumman and Intuitive Machines to design a lunar rover, which it intends to pitch to NASA in an upcoming competitive bid. Michelin has worked with NASA before on tires for previous lunar rovers. NASA anticipates launching the winning vehicle to the Moon around 2027.4 (Note: I previously reported on collaborations between Bridgestone and Toyota and also between General Motors and Lockheed Martin on lunar vehicle designs.)
Intel - or more specifically, a group of Intel employees known as Intel AI Mentors - conducted a joint study with Frontier Development Lab to better understand the physiological effects of radiation exposure on astronauts with an eye on protecting lunar astronauts as we return to the Moon.5
Plus Ultra, a Spanish-German company aiming to construct essential lunar communications and navigation infrastructure, secured an agreement to launch its first lunar satellite in Q4 2023.6
China’s senior lunar program designer said, “a Chinese crewed moon landing is entirely possible by 2030.”11 Also, last month, China’s “Yutu 2” rover hit a milestone of 1,000 days exploring the surface of the far side of the Moon.12
Russia is targeting May or July 2022 to put a spacecraft on the Moon. That mission, Luna-25, is to be followed by Luna-26 in 2024, Luna-27 in 2025, and Luna-28 in 2027-2028.13 The head of Russia’s space agency said he expects Luna-27 to be a “full-fledged international project” and said the agency is in discussion with French specialists on water ice treatment technologies.14
Poland became the 13th country to join the Artemis Accords, an international agreement among governments participating in the Artemis lunar program.15
UAE and Israel will collaborate on a lunar mission is targeting launch in 2024 to be coordinated by Israeli non-governmental organization SpaceIL.16
Japan is recruiting astronauts for lunar missions. A first for any government space agency, JAXA has dropped academic requirement for recruits.17
Turkey has began conducting tests on its lunar spacecraft, which is targeting a 2028 landing and rover deployment on the Moon’s surface.
Spotlight: Lunar Resources
This month, a soil researcher of Southern Cross University, John Grant, estimated that just the top layer of the Moon’s regolith may contain enough oxygen for 8 billion people to survive for about 100,000 years.20 (The current population of Earth is 7.9 billion as of November 2021, according to the most recent UN estimates.)
Once extracted, that oxygen can be used to sustain human life, but it can also be used for rocket propellant, supplying spaceships en route to Mars and beyond, as well as resupplying other satellites and vehicles operating in the zone between the Earth and the Moon—whats called “cislunar” space—effectively establishing the Moon as both a waypoint and gas station to support deep space exploration.
What’s more, another study published this month claims that there’s a high likelihood that an abundance of carbon dioxide in high concentrations are frozen in cold traps around the Moon’s poles.21 22 While this could also be converted to both breathable oxygen and rocket fuel, carbon is an essential element that can also be useful for everything from the production of building materials and biomaterial.
Of course, there is still a lot of work to be done to develop and deliver the technologies, equipment and processes to effectively extract these resources from the Moon, as well as to respond to the tremendous energy requirements. However, work is already underway to address these issues. NASA is collaborating with private companies and researchers around the world to send rovers to the Moon in the coming years to collect, analyze and study extractions methods for lunar resources.
With regard to anticipated electricity demands on the Moon, NASA and the Department of Energy this month called for American companies to submit design concepts to put nuclear fission reactors on the Moon within 10 years.23 The request is for the fission systems to eventually be capable of producing at least 40 kilowatts of energy, enough to power approximately 30 households for up to 10 years.
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カシオ計算機とJAXA、月面基地建設に向け高精度位置測位システムpicalicoによる測位実験を開始; TechCrunch Japan, Nov 30 2021.
NASA Selects Intuitive Machines for New Lunar Science Delivery; NASA, Nov 18 2021.
Northrop Grumman leads team to design an astronaut transportation vehicle for the lunar surface; TechCrunch, Nov 17 2021.
Plus Ultra aims to provide communications infrastructure for incoming wave of moon missions; SpaceNews, Nov 19 2021.
NASA not expected to send crew to moon until 2026 or later -U.S. watchdog; Reuters, Nov 16 2021.
NASA could end up delaying Moon landing project well past 2025; The Hill, Nov 14 2021.
Chinese crewed moon landing possible by 2030, says senior space figure; SpaceNews, Nov 15 2021.
1,000 days on the moon! China's Chang'e 4 lunar far side mission hits big milestone; Space.com, Oct 6 2021.
Roscosmos chief vows to turn Luna-27 mission into international lunar project; TASS, Oct 27 2021.
Israel, UAE to launch joint space projects, including Beresheet 2 Moon mission; Times of Israel, Oct 20 2021.
JAXA opens astronaut slots for those with no academic record; Asahi Shimbun, Nov 22 2021.
NASA, Australia Sign Agreement to Add Rover to Future Moon Mission; NASA, Oct 12 2021.
Australia to provide rover for future NASA lunar lander mission; SpaceNews, Oct 13 2021.
The Moon’s top layer alone has enough oxygen to sustain 8 billion people for 100,000 years; The Conversation, Nov 11 2021.
HUMAN LIFE ON THE MOON COULD DEPEND ON A SUBSTANCE DEADLY TO ANIMALS ON EARTH; Inverse, Nov 24 2021.
FROZEN CARBON DIOXIDE ON THE MOON COULD MEAN REALLY COOL FUTURE MISSIONS; Syfy, Nov 18 2021.
Fission System to Power Exploration on the Moon’s Surface and Beyond; NASA, Nov 20 2021.