In 2022, a space race of a different sort will likely emerge, one which centres around the Moon, its resources, and who will come to control it.
Heaven can’t wait
- One new project is known as Gateway, a lunar orbit station being constructed as part of a cooperative international effort that may serve as a ‘jumping off point’ for future missions to the Moon’s surface, such as the Artemis missions soon to be underway.
- Examples of the international contributions: the habitation section of the station is being built by a Franco-Italian firm associated with the European Space Agency and the external robotics system is being constructed by the Canadian Space Agency.
- The station will initially only be occupied by astronauts for one month per year, with an automated computer system maintaining operations the rest of the time.
Ignition sequence start
- The Artemis I project’s first launch is scheduled for later this year, with a small scientific payload that will gather data about the lunar surface, and the amount of moisture that is present.
- This launch will also evaluate the effectiveness of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket technology.
- Artemis II is scheduled for 2024, and with four astronauts in tow, will go past the moon and further than any manned spacecraft has gone before.
- Should the Artemis II project launch successfully, it opens the door for a potential Artemis III project which could send astronauts back to the lunar surface in 2025.
- NASA says the Artemis III project could establish a more permanent foothold on the lunar surface.
- However some challenges have emerged with the projects already undertaken, the program is both massively over budget and behind schedule, as SpaceX’s Starship system has already beaten some of Artemis’ goals.
- China and Russia, in addition to the US and other participants in the Gateway project, are seeking to establish their presence on the lunar surface.
- The existence of two useful resources, water and the Moon’s surface material itself, also may compound the competition to obtain a base of operations on the Moon.
- The emergence of this new age of the space race also calls into question who can actually own territory and resources in space.
Celestial spheres of influence
- Many other countries, such as Russia, China, the US, and India among others, may use space exploration as a method of geopolitical power-grabbing.
- Some argue that there are two main camps in the growth of national space exploration: the US plus approximately 13 other countries who have joined its Moon program and another less formal camp led by China and in part Russia.
- Though international legislation outlaws the presence of WMDs in space, as the sector becomes more crowded this may become an issue of contention for some nations.