A New Space Race Takes Off



By M Hickes

AS space fans look to the 50th anniversary of the moon landing later this month, a new space race is taking off.

Elon Musk’s Space X company has already launched dozens of successful missions and is talking of a Martian landing perhaps as early as 2024/25.

Just days ago, one of the late cosmologist Carl Sagan’s dreams came true with the deployment of Lightsail 2.

The tiny craft – the size of a loaf of bread – was deployed from the latest Space X mission and will unfurl a solar sail in a bid to become the first entirely light-powered space craft.

While light carries heat it also carries charged photons and they carry enough ‘push’ in the vacuum of space to propel spacecraft to higher orbits – in theory.

Lightsail 2 is the Planetary Society’s bid to fulfil a dream which Carl – famed for his Cosmos series – envisaged years ago.

A larger version of the craft might be able to tug larger satellites to higher orbits or into interstellar space, providing an unlimited free source of energy for space farers.

NASA also has ambitious plans for the moon as part of its Moon-to-Mars project.

Fifty years after Apollo, the agency envisages the new Artemis project will return men to the moon by 2024 – possibly also the first woman.

Combining the huge rocket - dubbed Space Launch System - and the Orion capsule, which sits atop such, the new craft will take men to the moon in a bid to develop a permanent staging post on the moon for humans.

The project will also see the development of the Gateway spaceport which will be in orbit around the moon.

The small station will act as a dock and supply depot to receive launches from across the translunar gulf and to then settle landers from Gateway to the moon.

NASA’s Space Launch System, or SLS, is a powerful, advanced launch vehicle which will open new possibilities for payloads, including robotic scientific missions to places like Mars, Saturn and Jupiter.

Effectively a replacement for the towering Saturn V rocket of old  - except this time featuring side boosters – it will propel the Orion craft on a series of test flights – just like the Apollo 8, 9 and 10 tests in the 60s.

The Artemis project will see a series of launches into the 2020s all designed to put man back into space.

The last Apollo program was in 1972 and was abandoned with Apollo 17; Apollos 18, 19 and 20 were scrapped due to increasing pressures on budgets in the days of Vietnam, with the Space Shuttle taking precedence.

The space race of the 21st C has been revitalised by the development of numerous new private space launch companies working alongside NASA and the other publically funded space agencies.

These new companies as well as other aerospace industries will work in tandem to develop key components of the Artemis projects and the landers which will travel between the Gateway station and the moon.

All of these projects, under a main directive from President Trump announced in May, aim to propel humans towards more permanent settlements on the moon, Mars and possibly beyond in the future.

Just days ago, the first abort tests were carried out by NASA on the new Orion capsule as part of its new pathway to the moon.

Steps towards the new venture have been a long time coming; in the Sixties at the height of moon mania there was talk of a lunar base by the early 1980s.

But the focus on a reusable craft became a main focus; and then after the Challenger and Columbia tragedies, the exploration of the solar system became a wider challenge.

But today, the prospect of a manned return to the moon and the future development a permanent base are at last coming true. NASA has a committed goal of 2024 as the key landing date.

Millennials of the 21st century have much to look forward to, as numerous agencies vie or work together to fulfil the dreams of their forebears from decades ago.

More on Artemis and the Moon to Mars project can be found here: https://www.nasa.gov/topics/moon-to-mars

·         Space X envisages the use of the BFR or Big Falcon Rocket now dubbed Starship to reach Mars and to use cargo supply missions too to the Red Planet.

·         Mars and Earth are at their closest approaches every two years which means only certain windows of opportunity exist for manned transits.

·         Administrator Jim Bridenstine confirmed recently that Artemis 1 will be an uncrewed mission around the Moon planned for 2020.

·         Next will come Artemis 2, which will orbit Earth's satellite with a crew around 2022; followed finally by Artemis 3 that will put astronauts on lunar soil in 2024.

·         The orbital station will initially consist of a simple power and propulsion element and a small habitat module. In 2024, astronauts will stop there en route to the Moon.