When Neil Armstrong first stepped on Moon surface in 1969 it was part of the strategy to beat the Soviets, a triumph of imagination and innovation, not an attempt to extract precious minerals. Now it is the center of a Space race to mine rare minerals, to acquire safe clean fuel forour future generations, latest smart phones, Space age Solar panels and possibly a future Colony of Earthlings. We now know that there is water on the Moon which is a game changer for the solar system. Water can provide imputs to rocket fuels .It can also support life and agriculture. So exploring Moon commercially is a first step towards making Moon as part of our world.
The most important thing about Moon is probably the stuff we have not so far even discovered .We do know that there could be more Platinum group metals on the surface of the Moon than all the reserves of Earth. Their terrestrial availability is fast depleting. So the race is on. Moon miners could possibly have property rights and there is an advantage of getting first and stacking claims. The outer Space treaty does not allow appropriation and ownership, but free access exploration is encouraged. It is conceivable that in not so distant future the lunar surface could host a colony of mining robots and Astronauts who could use the Moon for exploring its mineral wealth and strategically,as a base to explore further into Solar system
See the proof for the continuing thrilling race to moon as several leading countries are engaged in unearthing true worth of Moon. The focus is more on developing Lunar Roves.
ATHLETE. NASA plan for future moon missions calls for rovers that have a large range than the Apollo rovers. The All Terrain Hex-legged Extra-Terrestrial Explorer (ATHLETE)is a six legged robotic lunar rover under development by JPL. It is a test bed for systems and is designed for use in moon. It is designed for maximum efficiency to be able to both roll and walk over wide range terrains
Luna-Grunt Rover. It is the proposed Russian Lunar Rover (LUNA28)
Scarab. It is the new generation lunar rovers to assist astronauts take rock samples and mineral samples and explore the lunar surface and is supported by NASA and developed by Robotic Institute of Carnegie Mellon University.
Space Exploration Vehicle: SEV is a proposed successor to original lunar roving vehicle used in Apollo missions. It combines a living module, as a pressured cabin containing a small bath room, and space for two astronauts (Four in case of emergency) and a small truck.
Change-4. Planned by China in 2020
Astrobiotic technology Rover. A private company based in Pennsylvania USA plans to send a Rover to moon by2020,
SELENE-2 rover. Planned by Japan as robotic mission in 2020
As part of GOOGLE lunar X prize TEAM INDUS plans to fly two lunar rovers on their lander ECA (the acronymfor EK ChotisiAsha)-a small dream .The mission is planned to be launched by PSLV in early next year and is planned landing site is known as Mare Imbrium
India’s Chandrayaan Missions
Chandrayaan-1 mission,the first successful Indian Moon mission using the indigenous technology was launched on 22 Oct 2008. No country which has sent Moon mission before us got this level success in their first attempt as we could reach the moon and move around its orbit without a flaw during the entire flight .The Spacecraft orbited the Moon at a height of 100 Km from the lunar surface for chemical, mineralogical, andphoto geologic mapping of theMoon. The Spacecraft carried 11 instruments five from India and the remaining that of USA, UK Germany Sweden and Bulgaria. The Moon impact probe MIP was released on 14 Nov(PanditNehru’sBirthday) collecting dataduring its descent and finally crashing onthe Moon’s surface. The primary objective of MIP was assessing the technology related to soft landing at a predetermined location in future missions. The orbit was raised to 200 Km in May 2009 where it worked till it lost Earth communication link. Later in 2017 Chandrayaan-1 was again located in polar orbit at a height of 200 Km by NASA. Notably Chandrayaan data helped to determine the presence of Water (Ice) on the moon which NASA announced in 2009 .The Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) of Chandrayaan detected existence of hydrogen-Oxygen chemical bond (hinting water ) when looking at the top area of moons regolith(soil). The signal appeared strong in the poles. The Moon Impact Probe alsodetected signature of water on the moon during its slow descent just before its impact. Follow up observations by NASA LCROSS ( Lunar crater observation sensing Satellite )in2009 found more water at south pole of the moon , This and other observations in the following years lead to speculation that future explorers could use this water for Lunar colonies
After the commendable success ofChandrayaan -1 ISRO is justified in deciding to go withChandrayaan-2mission scheduled in2018 which intends to probe the Moon’s surface in greater details using a Moon Rover The Rover weighs 50Kg, will have 6 wheels and will be running on solar power. It will land near one of the poles and will operate for a year roving up to 150 Km at a maximum speed of 360m/hr. When the Chandrayaan-2 takes off to space, the mission will be targeting a high altitude landing site on Moon where no country in its several missions has gone so far. The Rover that is carried in the mission would conduct scientific experiment and study the mineralogical composition.
India is also keeping their option of manned mission to moon in future. The level of indigenous launch technology needs to mature with its Semi-Cryo Engines which are key in its launch vehicle to achieveHigh Lift Vehicles(HLV). So India’s ambitious plan of manned mission would take considerable time and effort to make sure that everything works perfectly right from liftoff to crew recovery. In human payload flight we cannot take that path. The launch vehicles need to be human rated meaning extra safety features to be built in. First best step will be attempting to place man in close to earth orbit with a successful flight and return and then going to the moon as next step.
Justification for India funding such costly missions in future, unless economy provides sufficient cushion, is a matter of concern factor for a country like India. To continue to reap the benefits technological growth immediate returns from space missions to common man cannot be a rider. ISRO has always managed difficult missions to other planets cheaply as evident in their successful missions to Moon and Mars The excellent successes achieved by Indian Space Research organization (ISRO) in indigenous launching and satellite fabrication and contributionin the areas of missile and defense technology has received worldwide adulation for achieving great results with minimum investment that even a giant Space entrepreneur Elon Musk USA has come forward to support with funding its missions. Probably, as in USA, private funding from Indian Billionaires for moon exploration is a viable alternative.
– Dr. T.V. Sebastian, Former Scientist at ISRO
Indian Space Research Centres