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The new race for the moon

Discussion in 'General Science Discussions' started by classic33, 24 Mar 2018.

  1. classic33

    classic33 Über Geek

    Google called off its race to the moon weeks ago when it became clear no private explorer would complete the trip by the 31 March deadline. That won’t stop at least three teams from Israel, Japan and the US, who say their missions are still a go, with or without the contest’s US$20m prize.

    “We are full steam ahead,” said Yigal Harel, programme director at SpaceIL, the Israeli team that plans a soft landing on the moon later this year.

    When the Lunar XPrize was introduced in 2007, interest in moon exploration was at a low. No government had landed there since the 1970s and no businesses had seriously contemplated it. But the contest has had its intended effect, jump-starting a cottage industry of would-be space explorers, even if no one emerged to take Google’s money. Last year, overall investment in space start-ups by venture capitalists climbed to a record $2.8bn, according research firm CB Insights.

    One reason the moon is within easier reach is that escaping Earth’s gravity is now so much cheaper. Private launch services like Elon Musk’s SpaceX can put a satellite into orbit for about one-tenth what it would have cost a decade ago. SpaceX last month sent up a rocket powerful enough to lift the weight of a fully loaded jumbo jet.

    The team most likely to get to the moon first, the non-profit SpaceIL, is attempting the feat mostly to prove it can be done. With some funding from the Israel Space Agency and billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, they plan to hitch a ride on one of Musk’s Falcon 9 rockets before the end of 2018.

    Other teams see business opportunities in building lunar infrastructure, ferrying supplies to the moon or extracting minerals from its soil. If there are vast lakes of ice frozen in the shadows of the moon’s craters, as satellite imagery indicates, that could prove to be a valuable resource. Of course, any commercial enterprise would face the uncertainty of outdated international agreements that don’t address how private property works in space.

    Meanwhile, governments are looking at the moon for the first time in years. In the US, President Donald Trump requested almost $900m in new funding for Nasa moon missions, which include building a space station in lunar orbit by the mid-2020s. China this year plans to land a probe on the unexplored dark side of the moon, where radio signals from Earth can’t be received.

    amusicsite likes this.
  2. amusicsite

    amusicsite dn ʎɐʍ sᴉɥ┴ Staff Member

    Don't forget China, they put their Yutu rover on the Moon in 2013.


    Also this year China is planning to try and land it's next rover on the far side of the Moon later this year.


    So claims that SpaceIL will be the first is stretching the truth a bit. Especially as it's partly funded by their governments space agency.

    I watched an interesting video about the problems with Moon rovers recently that highlighted one of the big problems with them. Which is the day night cycles are quite extreme.

    Most of the rovers are designed to operate mostly during the day cycle when there is solar power. The main problem is most electronics can't cope with the sudden drop in temperature of 270 degrees C when night falls and then fail to work when the sun comes up again. This will be an interesting design challenge for anyone who wants to do more than a few days roving. Mars is not quite so extreme with a 20 degrees C day and -73 C night temperature, which is why the Mars rovers can cope as it's much more within standard operating temperatures.

    I do think that there will be a lot more trips to the Moon in the next decade though, one of the big advantages is you can remote control a Moon rover with a lot less lag than a Mars one. So potentially you can do a lot more.
    classic33 likes this.
  3. classic33

    classic33 Über Geek

    The LunarX Prize was aimed at getting non government/state backed schemes into the space race.

    China may even be included in Project Orion.
  4. amusicsite

    amusicsite dn ʎɐʍ sᴉɥ┴ Staff Member

    Moon Express partnered with NASA
    Synergy Moon seems fairly independent of any government.
    Hakuto also seems fairly independent though a lot of Universities are partners, which may be government backed.
    SpaceIL almost half the money is from the Israeli Space Agency government body.
    TeamIndus seems fairly independent of any government.

    So I can't see how it's a non-government deal. In fact it don't seem to say you have to not be a government on the LunarX site. It's more about being a commercial entity. I guess China did not need Google to do it and their aim was not to beam back HD video and follow the challenge set down by Google.

    I think quite a few of the 34 companies that took up the initial challenge are probably still aiming to do stuff in space.


    Although no one won the prize, it does seem to have put the Moon back on the agenda, though I think you have to say SpaceX helped a lot too by showing you can lower the cost.


    Rocket Lab is another one to keep an eye on, their main mission is to be able to launch anything in space within weeks, instead of months or years to book a flight on most other rockets. They use 3D printed rockets and a carbon fibre rocket that they can knock up in a few weeks to order. Their aim is to be able to do hundreds of flights a year on a cheap ($5 million) rocket that is not reusable but potentially can deliver a payload to the Moon. Not a very large payload and not as cheap as a SpaceX launch but it's nice to see a different approach.

    Competition is good and it looks like there will be a lot in the space race over the next decade. Bring it on :)