2022 will be the year the world begins to return to the moon
One reason that 2022 is going to be a lot better than 2021 is that it will be the year that the world will begin to return to the moon. The process has been a long time coming.
Former President Donald Trump began the Artemis project in 2017. In early 2021, President Biden confirmed that his administration would continue the third effort to return humans to the moon, making it bipartisan and all but ensuring that it would succeed. So, 2022 will be the year that machines from the planet Earth will begin landing on the moon in earnest, joining those that have already arrived from China.
The United States will begin its first moon landings in decades under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. CLPS is an extension of a long-standing NASA policy of establishing public/private partnerships for various space operations. The Commercial Orbital Transportation Service (COTS) program, started under President George W. Bush, sends cargo to and from the International Space Station (ISS). Commercial Crew, established under President Barack Obama, sends astronauts to and from the ISS. The Human Landing Systems program, started under Trump, promises to deliver the first American astronauts to the lunar surface in decades. CLPS will send a variety of robotic probes to the moon.
The first mission under the CLPS program is the IM-1 to be launched by Houston based Intuitive Machines in early 2022. The Nova-C lander will carry instruments for NASA and commercial payloads to the lunar surface between Mare Serenitatis and Mare Crisiumon the near side of the moon.
Sometime in 2022, the Astrobotic Peregrine Mission 1 is scheduled to touch down at Lacus Mortis. The Peregrine lander will carry scientific and other payloads from NASA and a variety of international and private customers.
In December 2022, Intuitive Machines is scheduled to land another Nova-C at the lunar south pole. The lander will contain a drill which, along with a mass spectrometer, will prospect for ice beneath the lunar surface. The mission will also deliver a Micro Nova hopper-lander that is designed to explore some of the permanently shaded craters at the moon’s south pole, where scientists believe water ice has been deposited by comets over billions of years. The lunar south pole will be where the first astronauts will walk on the moon in half a century.
Besides the three American CLPS companies, a number of other countries are planning moon landing attempts in the new year. These include India, Japan the UAE and Russia. The Indian Chandrayaan-3 will be a second attempt to land on the moon by the Indian Space Research Agency. The Russian Luna-25 will constitute a first lunar mission by the former superpower since the mid-1970s. The UAE Rashid rover will fly to the moon onboard a Japanese Hakuto-R lander.
NASA intends to launch an uncrewed version of the Orion spacecraft on top of a Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket around the moon in early-to-mid 2022. The SLS will also carry 10 cubesats (miniature satellites) contributed by a number of private organizations.
SpaceX plans an orbital launch in 2022 of its Starship rocket, a version of which is planned to land humans on the lunar surface no earlier than 2025, pending regulatory approval.
Of course, the date of every planned mission is subject to change. Launch dates have been and can be delayed by various problems, including availability of launch vehicles and unforeseen mechanical problems. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly not helped. The FAA has announced that its environmental review for the SpaceX Starship orbital launch has been delayed until the end of February 2022, proving the adage that government paperwork can be just as challenging as making the technology work.
Also, some of the attempted landings may fail. Both India and Israel have tried to land probes on the moon which, instead, came to grief.
Still, the law of averages suggests that some of these planned missions will succeed. Thus far, only China has succeeded in landing on the moon in the 21st century, winning the scientific knowledge and soft political power that follows.
When the rest of the world starts arriving on the lunar surface, not only will humanity’s understanding of the moon increase but the idea that humans will soon follow will become more real 50 years after astronauts last walked on its surface.
Mark R. Whittington is the author of space exploration studies “Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon?” as well as “The Moon, Mars and Beyond,” and “Why is America Going Back to the Moon?” He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner.