Happy New Year, and welcome to 2019! This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first humans to walk on the Moon. And although we’re not quite ready to send people back, 2019 is still shaping up to be a big year for lunar exploration.
It will all start with Chandrayaan-2, which could launch from India as early as this month.
As the name suggests, this is actually the second mission to the Moon planned by the Indian Space Research Organisation, aka ISRO. The first mission ended in 2009, but it made headlines last year when scientists discovered that one of its instruments had found ice hiding in some of the Moon’s permanently shadowed craters. If humans ever set up a lunar colony, that ice could become a valuable resource, and the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter plans to study it even further.
But this mission is about more than just ice: It represents a huge step forward for the Indian space program. Because while their first visit consisted of just an orbiter and an impact probe, this new one has an orbiter, a lander, and a rover.
The lander and rover will touch down near the Moon’s south pole - a part of the surface that’s never been explored like this. Among other things, their suite of instruments will study the environment created by the Sun’s solar wind on the lunar soil.
The solar wind is a stream of electrically-charged particles that pours constantly from the Sun. When it strikes the Moon’s surface, it can knock some atoms free and bury others underground. Because our planet’s magnetic field deflects the solar wind, this environment is unlike anything on Earth, which means that there’s a lot we could learn from it.
Spectrometers will also map the composition of the lunar surface, and a seismometer will search for moonquakes (which as you might guess, are similar to earthquakes, but on the Moon). That research will extend work originally carried out by the Apollo astronauts.
But Chandrayaan-2 isn’t the only long-awaited mission that will finally, hopefully launch this year.
In early 2019, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to lift off and send a lander to the Moon for the Israeli organization, SpaceIL.
If all goes according to plan, this will be the first-ever example of a privately-developed rocket delivering a privately-developed spacecraft to another world! Their spacecraft is just two meters (six feet) in diameter and weighs less than 200 kilograms (~440 pounds) when empty, but it will carry more than 400 kilograms (~880 pounds) of fuel onboard.
Most of that fuel will be used for a soft landing on the Moon, but it’s also carrying enough to perform a hop across the surface. An HD video camera is expected to send back stunning views of the Moon’s surface, and the lander will also be carrying a magnetometer to explore the remnants of the lunar magnetic field.
Although the Moon doesn’t have a global magnetic field today, there are rocks across its surface that suggest that conditions might have been different billions of years ago. By using the magnetometer during the lander’s descent and hop, the team hopes to use those rocks to map the local magnetic environment.
And while that might not sound like much compared to ISRO’s mission, any time there’s a Moon landing is always a really exciting time.
The biggest lunar exploration story this year, though, will probably come from China.
Back in 2013, they became the first nation to land on the Moon since the end of the Cold War. They also just landed the first-ever spacecraft on the far side of the Moon, the Chang’e-4 rover. But this year will also see the Chang’e-5 mission, which will attempt the first lunar sample return since a Soviet mission in 1976.
It will dig as far down as two meters and return up to two kilograms (roughly four pounds) of Moon rocks to Earth. Most importantly, it’s targeted at an area thought to be just 1.3 billion years old - billions of years younger than the areas sampled by the Apollo astronauts.
As you might guess, returning stuff from the moon is not an easy mission, but studying those samples will help scientists understand how the Moon has evolved since its formation.
So, 2019 is shaping up to be a big year of firsts in exploration. And with a little luck, we’ll have new nations studying our closest neighbor in all kinds of new ways.
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Source: This story was originally published on SciShow Space. I am republishing a lightly edited version on SkyFeed in light of interest on the subject. Green, Hank. "Future Space News of 2019." SciShow Space, YouTube. 4 Jan, 2019. Web video.
Citation: Rovira, Lia N. "The Future of Space in 2019." SkyFeed. 7 Jan, 2019. Web article.