The Global Race for Lunar Exploration: From Chandrayaan 3 to Artemis and Beyond

The Global Race for Lunar Exploration: From Chandrayaan 3 to Artemis and Beyond

On July 14 this year, a launch vehicle carrying India’s lunar probe Chandrayaan 3 was launched from the Sriharikota launch pad in southern India. Chandrayaan 3 succeeded in landing at the lunar South Pole for the first time in the world. Photo source: Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO)/Dong-A Ilbo DB

Shim Chae-kyung, Senior Researcher, Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute

On the 23rd of last month, India’s lunar probe Chandrayaan 3 successfully landed in a high latitude region south of the moon. It has been about four years since the Chandrayaan 2 lander failed to make a soft landing in 2019. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), which hosted the mission, regarded the landing failure as a trial and error and used it as an opportunity for improvement. As a result, India is now the fourth country to operate a lunar lander, following the Soviet Union, the United States, and China.

China has emerged as an emerging space exploration country ahead of India. In the 21st century, two lunar orbiter operations and three lunar landing missions were successfully completed. China’s space exploration capabilities appear to have reached a leading level, including collecting lunar surface soil, sending it to Earth, and landing on the far side of the moon for the first time in the world.

There are more countries attempting to land on the moon. In 2019, the Israeli private company SpaceIL sent a lander to the moon, and in April this year, the Japanese private company iSpace sent a lander to the moon. Although they both crashed after attempting to land, the experience was used as nourishment for their next success. SpaceIL’s lunar lander design experience will be used to develop lunar landers for private U.S. companies, and iSpace is producing its second lunar lander.

Schematic diagram of Russia’s lunar probe Luna 25. Russia resumed its lunar exploration program, which had been halted since 1976, and sent Luna 25 to the moon this August, but it failed to land. Photo source: Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO)/Dong-A Ilbo DB

Russia also resumed its lunar exploration program, which had been halted since 1976, by launching the Luna 25 probe this August. Unfortunately, it crashed into the lunar surface due to an engine failure, and Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, pointed out that the main failure was the suspension of the lunar exploration program for nearly half a century. This is because most of the experts who led the Luna program in the past were elderly and had to leave the research and development field without having the opportunity to pass on their scientific and technological knowledge and success experiences to the next generation. Roscosmos is expected to further accelerate the development of Luna 26 and 27, which are being planned for continued lunar exploration.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Soviet Union’s rival during the Cold War, is carrying out the Artemis program, which includes various explorations and experiments on the lunar surface, utilization of local resources, and base construction, starting with a manned lunar exploration plan that continues the Apollo series. . What is significantly different from previous lunar exploration plans is that efforts are being made to expand the scope of private industry to the moon. We systematically support private companies to actively participate in the development of Earth-to-moon cargo transport ships, lunar communication networks, and lunar vehicles and rovers of various forms and functions.

The reasons why many countries are rushing to explore the moon are complex. First of all, it is to explore the nature of the moon itself. The Moon and Earth have been our closest neighbors for billions of years, having been created at similar times and from similar ingredients. Examining the traces of solar system history remaining on the moon will soon become an important clue to understanding the Earth.

Additionally, lunar exploration expands the scope of humanity’s mental and physical activities to celestial bodies outside the Earth. Just as the prosperity of human civilization has changed significantly since the Age of Exploration, and the landscape of our lives has changed with the advent of the Internet and smartphones, if accessibility to a new space called the moon improves dramatically, we will once again enter a new era. It will be.

Previously, getting to the moon itself was the goal, but in the ‘New Space’ era that has just begun, the goal is to challenge various experiments on the moon and, based on this, develop capabilities to advance to more distant spaces such as Mars. They are transformed into a ‘multi-planetary race’ who directly utilize and explore other celestial bodies in the solar system. As a first step, the United States, China, and Russia have set a goal of building a base at the lunar south pole in the 2030s. There are many permanently shaded areas in Antarctica where the sun does not shine all year round. There are high expectations that frozen water will be found there. The fact that ice remains on the surface of the moon, where water inevitably sublimates as soon as it is formed, is itself a scientifically interesting subject of investigation, but water is a raw material for various domestic uses, and the hydrogen and oxygen obtained by decomposing water are also useful resources as they are also propellants for launch vehicles. . In addition, there are many rare earth elements on the lunar surface. Some elements that are difficult to mine on Earth and have low production efficiency exist on the Moon in a form that is easy to mine. This is why many countries are interested in utilizing resources on the moon.

South Korea launched the lunar orbiter Danuri in August last year, marking the beginning of Korean-style lunar exploration. Danuri, which has safely landed in lunar orbit, is observing the lunar surface and surrounding environment from 100km above the moon. We can say that we belong to the leading group as a country with space exploration capabilities through the experience gained with various satellites and Danuri. Now, it is important for each person to adjust their own pace and cooperate.

In 2020, China’s lunar probe Chang’e 5 collected soil from the lunar surface and returned to Earth. China has successfully landed on the moon three times in the 21st century. Photo source: Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO)/Dong-A Ilbo DB

The current goals of the United States and China, including the construction of a lunar orbital space station, manned exploration, and the establishment of a lunar South Pole base, are premised on cooperation between multiple countries. This is because the scale is beyond what any one country can carry out on its own. Since the universe does not belong to anyone, going first does not mean occupying the territory. However, for bases and various equipment built on land that is not owned by anyone, we have no choice but to recognize rights derived from the Earth. Above all, the knowledge and experience gained by going into space can never be obtained without direct participation and is a valuable asset that no one can take away. One of our strategies is to collaborate with space exploration leaders. The opportunity to contribute to the common enterprise of humanity and to build independent space exploration capabilities with the knowledge and experience gained from it is not far away.

Shim Chae-kyung, Senior Researcher, Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute

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