Countries launching missions to the Moon and beyond in 2023

Image of the Artemis-i SLS rocket nose cone and Orion capsule on the launch pad with the moon above

In 2023, Russia, India and the European Space Agency will launch missions to the Moon, and further into deep space.

This follows NASA’s Artemis I mission, which recently completed a lunar orbit, using a spacecraft designed to bring people back to the surface of the Moon.

Who launches missions to the Moon?

India plans to launch the Chandrayaan 3 mission to the Moon in June 2023, taking a landing pod and a robotic rover to explore the surface. India first reached the Moon in 2008 with Chandrayaan 1.

Russia plans to launch its Luna 25 mission in July 2023, placing a probe on the Moon to collect samples from its south polar region.

SpaceX plans to take Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and eight other passengers on dearMoon’s trip around the Moon in late 2023. It would be the first mission for its Starship vehicle, capable of carrying 100 people.

Spaceship at stage separation

Spacecraft after separation from the rocket

NASAthe American space agency, plans to launch its next lunar mission in 2024. Called Artemis II, it will take astronauts into orbit around the Moon.

The US agency is due to launch the Artemis III mission in 2025 or 2026, landing the first woman and first person of color on the Moon.

It will be the first time people have walked on the moon since the last of Nasa’s Apollo missions in 1972. Nasa said it would use the Space X Starship for the mission.

China announced its intention with Russia to set up a joint base on the Moon by 2035, but no timetable has been set for the project.

Why do nations return to the Moon?

The goal of space powers, such as the United States, Russia and China, is to establish bases on the Moon for astronauts to live there, says Dr McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in the USA.

“The Moon is used as a stepping stone to places like Mars,” he says. “It’s a great place to test deep space technologies.”

It also takes less fuel to launch a spacecraft from the Moon than from Earth to travel to deep space, says Dr Lucinda King, space project manager at the University of Portsmouth.

And, she adds, a fuel source has been discovered on the Moon.

Photograph of the southwest quadrant of the Moon

The Moon’s south polar region contains about 600 billion kilograms of water ice

“We know that there is water at the south pole of the Moon,” says Dr King. “That could be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen, which could be used to refuel craft for trips to Mars and elsewhere.”

“That’s one of the reasons we’re rushing back to the Moon – to claim the water there.”

What other space missions are planned for 2023?

NASA will launch its Psyche spacecraft in the summer of 2023 to explore an asteroid called 16 Psyche, believed to be the remnant of a planet created in the early days of the solar system.

the European Space Agency (Esa), an organization supported by 22 European countries, plans to launch its Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE) in April 2023.

The probe will search for signs of life in the water ice believed to lie beneath the surface of three of Jupiter’s moons – Ganymede, Callistro and Europa.

However, in protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, ESA will no longer use a Russian rocket to put its Euclid space telescope into orbit next year. It will instead use a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

It also stopped working with Russia on its ExoMars mission to send a rover to Mars, delaying the launch until 2028.

China plans to put a telescope called Xuntian into low Earth orbit in December 2023, to map distant stars and black holes.

It has already landed probes and robotic rovers on the Moon and Mars, and it has set up a scientific research station in space, called Tiangong.

Artist's impression of the Tiangong space station in orbit.

China’s Tiangong, or “Heavenly Palace”, space station will conduct scientific research

“There has been an emerging vision in recent years of humanity extending to Mars and beyond,” says Dr McDowell.

This is why countries like China and India have become space powerhouses in recent years, alongside the United States, Russia and Europe, he says.

“Their governments are thinking: if this is what the future looks like, we don’t want our country to be left behind.”

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