Objects in low earth orbit. (NASA)
While attention is drawn to the Artemis missions and the USA’s plans for the Moon in 2023 and beyond, a whole raft of other nations are gearing up or getting ready to launch missions of their own.
One that has already launched, but is yet to arrive, is Japan’s Hakuto-R lander, which is taking the long round and due to set down in April. Hakuto is the first privately built lunar lander to head to the moon. In June, India’s Chandrayaan-3 will mark an attempted re-do of the Chandrayaan-2 which failed to achieve a soft landing in 2019. The mission carries a lander and rover. The UAE is also sending a rover of its own called Rashid, due to be cruising around on the lunar surface for about 10 days in April. Meanwhile images from South Korea’s Danuri mission, which launched in mid 2022 continue to pour in.
Far from being limited to major powers, the Moon is becoming a busier (and more diverse) place. We look forward to seeing more missions, and cooperation between more nations, in the near future.
Clean Up in LEO
In the last few days, LeoLabs unveiled its latest space radar array to track space debris and satellites in low Earth orbit, including objects as small as 2 cm across. The new phased-array radar in Western Australia was commissioned on the 30th of January, complementing the company’s radar in the South Island of New Zealand to increase coverage of the skies over the southern hemisphere.
This technology is likely to be used increasingly in the near future as space agencies and commercial ventures begin to face up to the surmounting problem of space junk in orbit around Earth, which left unchecked could threaten our ability to launch anything from Earth in the not-too-distant future.
Swiss company ClearSpace responded to the call by the European Space Agency (ESA) for tenders for a space debris removal mission. Scheduled for 2026, this is the first mission of its kind and aims to deorbit part of a Vega rocket the size of a small satellite weighing approximately 100 kg. In-orbit servicing start-up Astroscale, based in Japan, is another contender for this contract.
Shake Up at JPL
As many companies are laying off thousands of workers to deal with economic troubles, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is dealing with their own issues. After a mission to explore the potentially mineral rich 16 Psyche asteroid was delayed, NASA commissioned an independent review of the laboratory’s internal operations.
The report found, among other things, that staffing levels and workplace culture had suffered in recent years, partly due to Covid-19. It found that workloads and stress levels were too high. As well as systematic and methodological issues.
Among other recommendations, it is likely that JPL will be looking to hire more staff and also to improve working conditions for existing staff. This might be a good opportunity to dust off the resume if you are an engineer, programmer or mathematician looking to work in the space sector.