BAKU, Azerbaijan — Representatives of national space agencies provided updates on upcoming moon missions at the 74th International Astronautical Congress Monday.
The opening day of the IAC in Baku, Azerbaijan—50 years after the city last hosted the event—saw a series of one-to-one talks during a Heads of Agencies plenary session, Oct. 2.
NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy told International Astronautical Federation (IAF) President Clay Mowry that hardware for not only Artemis 2, but Artemis 3 and 4 was in the works. NASA stated Sept. 25 that all four RS-25 engines had been structurally joined onto the core stage of the SLS rocket for the Artemis 2 mission.
Melroy added that the mission crew were recently in San Diego on the West Coast of the United States to practice recovery from the ocean after Orion slash down. They also visited Kennedy Space Centre, including a walk through of going onto the pad. The deputy administrator also noted progress in Bremen, Germany, on hardware. The European Space Agency was however absent from the plenary.
The Lunar Surface Innovation Consortium (LSIC), a group of companies and organizations working on technologies for lunar exploration, has meanwhile attracted more than 3,000 participants from 57 countries, Melroy stated.
Li Guoping, chief engineer at the China National Space Administration (CNSA), provided updates on China’s activities in response to questions from aerospace consultant Mishaal Ashemimry.
Li stated that the Chang’e-6 lunar far side sample return will launch next year. Background slides indicate that the Queqiao-2 relay satellite to support the mission will first launch in March next year.
The Chang’e-7 and Chang’e-8 missions will follow in 2026 and 2028 respectively. These will involve multiple spacecraft and target the south pole region of the moon. Chang’e-8 will include in-situ resource utilization technology tests and have 200 kilograms of payload available for international piggyback missions.
This will set the stage for the International Lunar Research Station, which will be built in the 2030s and completed in the 2035-2040 timeframe. China is also working towards putting astronauts on the moon before 2030.
President of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Hiroshi Yamakawa told Mowry that the country’s current moon lander mission had passed a major milestone.
JAXA’s Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) performed a successful lunar orbit injection maneuver Sept. 30. The spacecraft’s main engine fired for 39 seconds, when roughly 660 kilometers above the South Atlantic Ocean. The mission launched Sept. 6.
SLIM is now expected to make a close approach to the moon on the afternoon of Oct. 4 Japan Standard Time. It will however pass beyond the moon on a trajectory that will save propellant and allow a lunar landing attempt around January 2024.
Yamakawa also said it is working on the LUPEX joint lunar landing mission with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). Japan will provide the launcher and a rover for the mission, with ISRO delivering the lander.
JAXA is also working together with Toyota to make a pressurized lunar rover to carry two astronauts, Yamakawa says.
ISRO Chairman S. Somanath finally spoke to Mowry regarding India’s recent Chadrayaan-3 landing success. The mission made India the fourth country to soft land on the moon in August.
ISRO had hoped on reviving the mission’s solar-powered Vikram lander and Pragyan rover in late September, after the spacecraft had completed their primary one-lunar-day mission and shutdown for lunar night. The agency has so far reported only silence from the spacecraft. S. Somanath provided no update, but spoke of the mission’s impact.
“Chandrayaan-3 created such an interest with public opinion, especially amongst youngsters and young people. I think it was one of the most watched events on YouTube in recent times, so it creates such a welcome interest and inspiration for the entire country and for young people to get into science.”