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Race to the moon

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Business Spotlight - epaper ⋅ Ausgabe 9/2022 vom 24.08.2022



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Lunar base made with 3D printing ? the future of space exploration and the lunar economy

O nly12 people have ever done it: all of them men; all of them American. And the last time it happened was 50 years ago. In December 1972, US astronaut Gene Cernan became the last person to walk on the moon — since then, no human being has been back. That is going to change soon. In the coming years, the moon will again be the hottest destination in the solar system, not least because of what it means for the economy here on earth.

At least eight missions to the moon’s orbit are planned in 2022 or early 2023, and that is just the beginning. Artemis 1, the first of several Artemis missions that NASA has planned, is expected to launch in the second half of 2022, after several delays because of problems in wet dress rehearsals.

One of the most important trips will be made by Artemis 3. Planned for 2025, it will take the first astronauts since Gene Cernan to the moon — including a ...

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... woman and a person of colour. Moon missions from several other space agencies as well as private companies are also planned — to do scientific research, find valuable resources or give billionaires the trip of a lifetime.

“Moon landings of the 1960s and 1970s were mainly politically motivated, with nations vying to demonstrate who had the most powerful rockets,” Dr James O’Donoghue, a planetary scientist and as tronomer at the Japanese space agency, JAXA, told Business Spotlight. “Today, it’s more about human exploration, science and industry.”

The moon has caught the attention of some of the biggest entrepreneurs on earth — including rivals Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. Both men want to build on the moon, and both see it as just the first step before going further into space. Andrew May, an astrophysicist and author of the book The Space Business, expects a new phase of lunar exploration driven by the private sector. “Companies increasingly see commercial reasons for going to the moon, both in its own right and as part of a bigger picture of space industrialization,” he says.

Mine the moon?

Government space agencies are also using economic arguments to get support for their missions. NASA, for example, speaks of a “lunar economy”. Far from being just an uninteresting lump of rock, as people long thought it was, the moon has significant economic potential. There are resources there that could possibly be mined and brought back to earth — these include titanium, aluminium and helium-3. “This is a stable and non-radioactive substance which happens to be the perfect fuel for nuclear fusion,” says May. “If fusion ever becomes a practical reality, helium-3 will be in high demand because it doesn’t exist on earth.”

Transporting raw materials back to earth will be expensive, however, so it is likely that the moon’s resources will be used primarily to build a base of some kind. O’Donoghue explains: “The motivations for both nations and private companies are to be the first to get there, to map out the resources and make the moon a viable outpost.”

Some key discoveries have already been made. Water is obviously a priority, and researchers know there’s water on both the sunlit and dark sides of the moon. Soil samples collected from the moon by China’s Chang’e 5 rover (the first samples since 1976) suggest it could be used to generate oxygen and rocket fuel, but there are many questions about how such resources could be found and used by astronauts in the future.

In addition to what may be in the soil, the moon has useful geophysical characteristics. Since gravity on the moon is only one-sixth of what it is here on earth, the moon is potentially a great place from which to launch missions further into space — to Mars, for example — as far less energy would be

required than for a launch directly from earth. And astrophysicist and aerospace engineer Joalda Morancy told Business Spotlight: “Because the moon has a thin atmosphere and is tidally locked to earth, installing radio and infrared telescopes on the far side could benefit astronomers.”

Holiday among the stars

Another business opportunity will be tourism. Recently, several flights have taken billionaires into space — or very near to it. For private companies like Space Adventures and SpaceX, an obvious source of revenue is to charge the super-rich for the chance to get close to the moon.

“We’ll see ‘circumlunar’ space tourism flights, which go round the moon and come straight back, in the not-too-distant future,” May says. However, in the future, the range of recreational options will grow, including moon hotels, for those with the money to buy a ticket. “With its low gravity, other-worldly landscape and a stunning view of earth, the moon has to be the number-one destination for any space tourist,” says May.

While space tourism is controversial and has many critics, it could provide a boost to lunar exploration. Dr O’Donoghue explains that demand to visit space and the moon might lead to the development of new technologies. “It also increases public interest in space travel in general,” he says. “This usually means increased political pressure to be in space, which in turn leads to increased budgets.”

“Companies increasingly see commercial reasons for going to the moon”


Here are some common space-launch words you might hear:

⋅ Abortmeans to “stop a launch or mission”

⋅Command module is the compartment that carries the

⋅ astronauts

⋅Cryogenic means extremely cold. Liquid oxygen, for example, is kept at minus 183 degrees Celsius

⋅ Downlink is a radio signal sent to earth from a spacecraft

⋅ Glitch(ifml.) is a technical problem

⋅Lift-off is a vertical launch, the moment the spacecraft leaves the ground T-minus (US ifml.) refers to the time left until launch

⋅ Uplinkis a radio signal sent from earth to a spacecraft

⋅Wet dress rehearsal (WDR) is the last big test before launch. It’s called “wet” because it practises filling the

⋅ tankwith liquid fuel

⋅Zero gravity refers to the weightlessness that astronauts feel

“The moon has to be the number-one destination for any space tourist”

Serving science

The planned lunar missions will give researchers a chance to carry out scientific studies and learn more about the possibility of living on the moon for long periods, including measuring radiation levels to minimize the risks to humans.

Bringing back rocks and soil from the moon helps scientists discover all kinds of things — thanks to the recent Chang’e 5 mission, for example, we know that the moon was volcanically active for longer than was previously thought.

This kind of work is necessary to better understand the risks as humans travel further and stay longer in space. “The moon is the first stepping stone for humanity’s exploration of the solar system and beyond,” O’Donoghue says.

It will not be easy, however. To make future missions a success, the agencies and private companies involved need to share the same goals and values. “It’s tough to begin operations in an environment that technically no one can own,” Morancy says, explaining that not only aerospace experts but people in other professions must play a role in the future of lunar industry, discovery and ownership. “It will require the efforts of many professions, including economists, lawyers and more.”

There are also fears that strategic/military priorities could come to dominate the civilian/scientific ambitions. The US established Space Force (USSF) in 2019, while China appears to have chosen competition over cooperation, by building its own space station, for example. This is hardly an environment that builds trust between nations. While the moon missions have great potential, much will depend on how well all parties involved can work together.


USA Artemis 1 (NASA) Test of the unmanned Orion lunar orbiter capsule

IM-1 (Intuitive Machines, with NASA) Test of Nova-C lander

Mission 1 (Astrobotic) Rover delivery to lunar surface for NASA

JAPAN Hakuto-R 1 (ispace) Soft landing

SLIM (Smart Lander for Investigating Moon; ISAS) Precision landing

SOUTH KOREA Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (Danuri; Korea Aerospace Research Institute) Surface exploration for future missions

INDIA Chandrayaan-3 Soft landing

RUSSIA Luna 25 Surface exploration of the lunar south pole