On July 20, 1969, NASA astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. left the safety of their lunar module named, "Eagle" and made the first human steps onto the surface of Earth’s satellite. Michael Collins remained in orbit in the command module spacecraft named, "Columbia." The first successful human flight and landing on the Moon is a moment that lives on in history. That moment over 50 years ago will endure through the ages as one of the greatest achievements of humankind. Today it is obvious that journey has never ended. Find out more about the Apollo lunar mission below or continue reading to discover the exciting new human race to Earth's sister, Luna!
We are not kidding at Astra's when we say an exciting Moon race is underway.
At Bat! : Astrobotics Technology will launch its Peregrine Lunar Lander on a ULA's Vulcan Centaur rocket to the Gruithuisen Domes on the Oceanus Procellarum, on the Moon. The commercially built lander will carry fourteen NASA payloads and commercial cargo. Launch is scheduled for 2023. A few weeks later, Peregrine will land.
Rocket Lab and NASA's CAPSTONE Mission have a small satellite traveling in an interesting lunar orbit. Launched from New Zealand on June 25, 2022, CAPSTONE traveled to its lunar orbit for 4 months. CAPSTONE completed its initial orbit insertion maneuver and fired its thrusters going into its near-rectilinear halo orbit, on November 13, 2022, at 7:39 p.m. EST. CAPSTONE is testing the orbit planned for the Lunar Gateway.
International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG)
The International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG) is an organization of space agencies established to advance human space exploration by coordinating world-wide efforts in space exploration. Current members include:
Australia - Brazil - Canada - China - European Space Agency - France - India - Italy - Japan - Luxembourg - Norway - Poland - Republic of Korea - Romania - Russia - Switzerland - Thailand - Ukraine - United Arab Emirates - United Kingdom - United States - Vietnam
This international organization is moving forward on plans to explore the Moon and begin utilization of lunar resources. Efforts in this area are intended to bring human space exploration forward and many believe that Mars is the first destination beyond the Earth-Moon system. ISECG members are working together to explore "cislunar space" meaning the space between the Earth and Moon including the orbit of the Moon.
Active Lunar Explorers
This section covers missions that are actively working on the task of exploration of the Moon. Completed missions, including the Chang'e 5 can be found in that section.
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) - National Aeronautics and Space Administration
On June 18, 2009, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and Lunar Crater Observation and the Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) missions to the moon were launched from Cape Kennedy. LRO reached lunar orbit and its exploration mission began on September 15, 2009. The orbiter's mission was slated to end after a year, but it is still operating today.
Instruments carried by LRO include Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation (CRaTER) that measures the radiation from the Sun and cosmic sources; Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment (DLRE) to measure lunar surface temperatures for future surface operations and exploration; Lyman Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP) a spectrometer to map the lunar surface in the far ultraviolet region; Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector (LEND) to detect hydrogen in permanently shadowed craters near the lunar poles that may indicate the presence of water ice; the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) instrument studies lunar topography to make a 3d model of the lunar surface to identify the best locations for safe landing and surface exploration; Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) includes 2 narrow-angle cameras that make high-resolution, black-and-white images resolving details to 1 meter and a third wide-angle camera that takes color and ultraviolet images of the lunar surface; lastly Mini-RF uses radar to study permanently shadowed areas on the moon.
Astra's Lunar Exploration page features the image that was attained by the LRO spacecraft while it was studying the wispy lunar exosphere. The image was created using the LROC cameras, the narrow-angle cameras captured the lunar surface while the wide-angle camera captured a full-color image of my favorite planet. This image was featured on a NASA press release on December 18, 2015 that gives more details of how the image was created.
Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO)
The Korea Aerospace Research Institute's Danuri established its lunar orbit in December 2022. The name Danuri is a combination of two Korean words, dal (moon) and nurida (enjoy). The name signifies South Korea's hope and desire for the success of their first Moon mission. Danuri orbits about 100 km above the surface of the moon in a polar orbit.
Danuri carries 5 instruments: Lunar Terrain Imager (LUTI), Wide-Angle Polarimetric Camera (PolCam), KPLO Magnetometer (KMAG), KPLO Gamma Ray Spectrometer (KGRS) and ShadowCam. ShadowCam was provided by NASA to search permanently shadowed regions on the moon for evidence of water ice deposits. ShadowCam is over 200 times more sensitive than previous lunar images so examining bright areas on the Moon will saturate the camera.
Danuri is the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) first mission to the Moon. Successfully launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on August 4, 2021, the orbiter is a technology demonstration that will help South Korea gain experience in space exploration beyond low earth orbit. The orbiter is studying lunar resources such as water ice, uranium, helium-3, silicon, and aluminium. It will also help South Korea to select landing sites for future missions.
Launched on December 7, 2018, by the China National Space Agency (CNSA), Chang'e-4's lander, Jade Rabbit-2 and rover, Yutu-2 was operating on the Moon until August 2016. The solar-powered probe when dormant (~2 weeks) during the lunar night.
The lander's equipment includes cameras, a low frequency spectrometer, and a Lunar Micro Ecosystem - - a sealed biosphere cylinder with seeds and insect eggs to find out if plants and insects could hatch and grow together. Within a few hours after landing on January 3, 2019, the biosphere's temperature was adjusted to 24°C and the seeds were watered. Unfortunately, a large drop in temperature stopped the experiment after 9 days instead of the planned 100 days, but valuable information was obtained. Lunar rover's equipment includes a panoramic camera, on a mast that can rotate 360°, Lunar penetrating radar and a Visible and Near-Infrared Imaging Spectrometer.
Landing on the moon on January 3, 2019 the rover has far exceeded its 3-month mission and has the record for operating days on the moon. Yutu-2 explored the Von Kármán crater in the Aitken Basin near the Moon's south pole.
Chandrayaan 2 - Indian Space Research Organisation
The second lunar mission of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was launched on July 22, 2019 from Sriharikota. It reached the Moon and settled into a polar orbit to release the Vikram lander on September 02, 2019. Although the lander was released, communications were lost when it was 2.1 km above the surface. The orbiter is still functioning and studying the moon’s evolution and mapping minerals and water in the polar regions. The orbiter carries 8 instruments including cameras, spectrometers, radar and a solar x-ray monitor. Chandrayaan 2 is well beyond its 1 year expected lifetime. It is currently in good shape to allow a full 7-year mission. The high resolution camera is returning data on the polar surface that will help build topographic maps to assist in determining the best places for landing humans on the lunar surface.
ARTEMIS-P1 and ARTEMIS-P2
Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence and Electrodynamics of the Moon’s Interaction with the Sun (ARTEMIS) satellites were originally called THEMIS-B and THEMIS-C and were launched as part of a fleet of 5 spacecraft used to study the Earth's magnetic field. For 2 years the fleet measured radiation and particles in the near Earth environment. Because the fleet could not longer maintain the orbit they needed to work together, in 2010 these two satellites were moved into lunar orbit. On July 17, 2011 they settled into a "kidney-shaped" orbit around the Moon. Just as these probe were used to study the environment around Earth, the newly renamed mission uses the instruments on the spacecraft to learn how the Moon interacts with space around it. It is expected that this "Artemis" mission will remain operating in lunar orbit for a long time to come. This mission has been renamed THEMIS-ARTEMIS to avoid confusion.
Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE)
CAPSTONE is a Lunar orbiter that is part of NASA’s Artemis program. CAPSTONE's mission will help reduce risk for future space missions and help NASA to understand the dynamics of the near-rectilinear halo orbit. CAPSTONE is a NASA Cube-Sat that was launched by Rocket Labs on their Electron rocket in 2021. The CubeSat was created by Advanced Space located in Boulder, Colorado. Advanced Space was awarded a $13.7 million Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract on September 13, 2019.
CAPSTONE's orbit is known as a near rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) and is expected to be the ideal orbit for a lunar space station. The orbit will bring CAPSTONE within 1,000 miles of the lunar south pole when it is closest to the moon (periapsis) and 43,500 miles from the north pole when it is at the farthest distance (apoapsis). The orbit will be completed every seven days. This orbit can reduce the amount of fuel needed by spacecraft flying to and from the Moon’s surface than other lunar orbits. It is located at a precise balance point in the gravities of Earth and the Moon (L1) and offers stability for long-term missions like Gateway. The NRHO orbit requires minimal energy to maintain. CAPSTONE’s orbit can establish that this location is an ideal staging area for missions to the Moon and beyond.
CAPSTONE traveled for three months before reaching its target orbit on November 14, 2022. It must stay in this lunar orbit at least 6 months to allow NASA to understand the characteristics of the orbit. It will help define the power and propulsion requirements to maintain this NRHO orbit. CAPSTONE will also demonstrate spacecraft navigation solutions and communication capabilities with Earth. The NRHO provides an unobstructed view of Earth in addition to coverage of the lunar South Pole where today's lunar exploration is focused. CAPSTONE has completed its primary mission and appears to be in good shape to continue the evaluation of the N$=RHO orbit.
NASA Artemis Program
NASA's Artemis program will send astronauts back to the Moon and establish a sustainable human presence on the lunar surface by 2025. The Moon is a stepping stone for human exploration of Mars and other destinations in the solar system. Key components of Artemis include the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, the Orion spacecraft, and the Gateway lunar orbiting outpost. The last time humans walked on the lunar surface was during the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.
NASA launched the Artemis-1 mission from the Kennedy Space Center on November 16, 2022. Orion completed a lunar flyby on November 21. It then entered a distant retrograde orbit for six days, finally completing a second flyby of the Moon on December 5. The spacecraft returned to Earth on December 11, 2022.
To return to Earth, the Orion spacecraft bounced off Earth's upper atmosphere briefly and then came back down, something like a rock skipping across the surface of a pond. This maneuver is actually called, "skip reentry". Orion's heat shield performed as expected, protecting the capsule as it encountered the atmosphere. Finally, Orion used parachutes on the last step before landing, splashing down off the coast of Baja California.
JAXA's lunar lander mission will help develop the landing technology needed for future lunar exploration. It is a small scale mission but will prove its worth by landing exactly where it is intended to land. It is currently scheduled for launch in 2023, but it has not been manifested. SLIM finds its location by processing images captured by its camera pointing toward the lunar surface. Using advanced image processing software that is accurate and efficient, it recognizes craters, and compares them with the map of the lunar surface in memory to pinpoint its own position.
China National Space Agency (CNSA) is planning for Chang’e-6 to bring back soil samples from the Moons south pole. The returned samples will be used to study the Moon’s history, and for future use, such as rocket fuel or to supply lunar bases. Chang’e-6 was once a back up for the successful Chang’e-5 mission and is already prepared for the task. Expected launch for this mission is 2027.
Chang’e 6 is sending a lander to the Moon’s South Pole-Aitken (SPA basin) to collect samples and place them in a lunar ascent vehicle. The plan is similar to the Chang’e-5 sample return mission. The ascent vehicle will be launched and meet up with a return vehicle in orbit. SPA basin is a massive impact crater that may be one of the oldest on the Moon.
The Chang’e 6 mission is also an international collaboration with four partners:
The National Centre for Space Studies (CNES), the French space agency, will contribute the Detection of Outgassing Radon (DORN) instrument that will measure concentrations of radon on the Moon. DORN will detect alpha particles emitted by the decay of radon surrounding the lander.
Italy’s National Institute for Nuclear Physics-Frascati is building the INstrument for landing-Roving laser Retroreflector Investigations INRRI). This device reflects concentrated light, called a laser retroreflector. Light sent from Earth can be bounced off the reflector on the lunar surface to measure the distance between Earth and the Moon accurately.
The Swedish Institute for Space Physics is developing the Negative Ions at the Lunar Surface instrument (NILS), will measure solar winds that are reflected by the lunar surface.
The Institute of Space Technology in Pakistan will send its ICUBE-Q CubeSat that is designed to detect traces of water-ice on the lunar surface.
CNSA plans to launch Chang’e-7 in 2024, to carry out a detailed survey of the Moon’s south pole, including mapping the distribution of ice in its shadowy craters. The mission uses an orbiter, relay satellite, lander, and a rover. The mission's primary objective is searching for water ice in a permanently shadowed region (PSR) on the moon.
Lunar Exploration Missions Under Development
These lunar missions are being developed around the world. Most of the information on this lunar exploration web page provides a limited overview. Astra encourages further investigation through the multitude of sources available on the internet. The focus is on programs that seem to be the most likely to be completed and the list will obviously change.
The Artemis program is a NASA human spaceflight program to launch "the first woman and the next man" to the Moon. The goal is to make the next visit to the Moon in 2025 using a commercially-developed lander. The lander has been contracted to SpaceX. The spacecraft Orion will be launched on the US Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.
VIPER is a mobile robot that will be sent to the south pole of the Moon to seek the location of water ice that can be used to support human exploration on the Moon. Development of VIPER continues under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program that NASA is sponsoring to partner with US commercial companies to deliver payloads to the surface of the Moon. VIPER is planned for launch to the lunar surface in late 2023.
Viper is 8 feet (2.5 m) tall and 5 feet (1.5 m) in length and width. It is being built to crawl around inside craters. The rover must be able to move over different types of soil and up and down inclines. Each of the rover's wheels have active suspension and independent steering so it can move sideways and diagonally or spin in a circle. VIPER will travel at ~0.5 mph over the lunar surface. VIPER is the first NASA rover with headlights so it can explore inside dark craters. Its specially designed cameras will work in light and dark conditions.
VIPER will be delivered to the lunar surface on Astrobotic’s Griffin lunar lander. Griffin is capable of delivering up to 500kg of mass to the lunar surface. Griffin's propulsion system uses 7 main engines to perform all maneuvers including trans-lunar injection, trajectory correction, lunar orbit insertion, and powered descent.
Lunar Gateway is a collaboration to build a space station in a special lunar orbit (near rectilinear) that has international support. In 2021 the space development company, Rocket Lab will launch a CubeSat into lunar orbit for NASA. Using its Electron rocket and Photon Lunar spacecraft the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) CubeSat will launch to this unique lunar orbit. From the Moon's perspective this orbit moves the satellite in a polar orbit that is closer to the northern pole and farther from the southern pole. The orbit is using the L1 center of mass between Earth and the Moon. This near-rectilinear halo orbit may be called "NRHO".
Although it is uncertain the role the Lunar Gateway will have for NASA's Artemis-3 mission, NASA's Gateway site states:
In the future, our current ISS partners will provide important contributions to Gateway, comprising advanced external robotics, additional habitation and possibly other enhancements. Canada announced in February 2019 its intention to participate in the Gateway and contribute advanced external robotics. In June 2020, the Canadian Space Agency announced its intention to award a contract to MDA to build the Canadarm3 for Artemis deep space missions. In October 2019, Japan announced plans to join the United States on the Gateway with contributions of habitation components and logistics resupply. In November 2019, the European Space Agency (ESA) received authorization and funding to support its planned contributions to the Gateway including habitation and refueling. In October 2020, ESA signed an agreement with NASA to contribute habitation and refueling modules and enhanced lunar communications to the Gateway. ESA also provides two additional European Service Modules (ESMs) for NASA’s Orion spacecraft. Russia has also expressed interest in cooperating on the Gateway.
Lunar Trailblazer is a planned small lunar orbiter, part of NASA's Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration (SIMPLEx) program, that will detect and map water on the lunar surface to determine how its form, abundance, and location relate to geology. This mission should aid in understanding of lunar water and a possible lunar water cycle. Lunar Trailblazer is currently planned to launch in 2023 a secondary payload on the IM-2 mission, with the satellite is on track and set for a November 2023 launch as a ride share with NASA's Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP) mission that will be studying the solar heliosphere.
NASA's Commercial Lunar Development Projects
In 2014, NASA announced the Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (CATALYST) initiative to form commercial partnerships for lunar exploration to encourage the development of robotic lunar landers to deliver payloads to the lunar surface. NASA selected Astrobotic Technology, Masten Space Systems Inc., and Moon Express Inc. to continue the development of their landers.
As of November 2020, NASA selected surface task order awards and payload assignments for the first scheduled Lunar missions.
Lunar landers will be equipped with Laser Retro-Reflector Array (LRA) containing eight 1.25 cm reflectors. The mirror reflects laser light from other spacecraft to determine the lander’s position. For precision navigation they will all carry Navigation Doppler LIDAR (NDL).
Astrobotic Technology is developing the Peregrine Lunar Lander that will deliver 14 payloads to the Moon in 2023. The lander has a payload mass capacity of 90 kg. The cargo lander will be launched by United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rocket.
On its first mission, Peregrine will carry 14 instruments to the lunar surface:
Linear Energy Transfer Spectrometer (LETS) is a radiation monitor that will detect radiation from galactic cosmic rays and space weather events caused by solar activity. This will help develop radiation protection for humans and equipment.
PROSPECT Ion-Trap Mass Spectrometer (PITMS)
will study the lunar exosphere (the Moon's scant atmosphere) after descent and landing, and as the lunar day (14 Earth days) progresses, to understand the release and movement of water and other rare elements that evaporate at relatively low temperatures, called volatiles, on the Moon. PITMS can provide insight into how volatiles are transported across the lunar surface.
Near-Infrared Volatile Spectrometer System (NIRVSS) is a near-Infrared spectrometer that will test for volatiles on and below the surface. NIRVSS has three components: the near-Infrared spectrometer to identify water and other materials; the Ames imaging module--a camera to help identify the areas tested; and a longwave calibration sensor that will tell the spectrometer the surface temperature. Future missions will also carry a NIRVSS instrument.
Mass Spectrometer Observing Lunar Operations (MSolo) will measure the gasses coming from the spacecraft during touchdown to identify what it brought to the lunar surface. It will monitor for changes as the mission progresses. MSolo will work with other instruments such as NIRVSS, testing freshly exposed regolith for evidence of ice and other volatiles.
Neutron Measurements at the Lunar Surface (NMLS) is a neutron spectrometer with two neutron counters that measure neutron flux at the lunar surface. This can confirm the presence of hydrogen (and therefore water) and rare earth elements. These observations will help calibrate observations from the surface of the Moon to validate measurements made from orbit.
Fluxgate Magnetometer (MAG) is a magnetometer will measure local magnetic fields near the lunar surface. The instrument will measure Earth’s magnetosphere and the magnetic field within the solar wind.
The Laser Retro-Reflector Array (LRA) is a reflector that bounces light that shines on it backward, 180 degrees from the light source. The LRA is has eight retroreflectors that are attached to the lander deck. LRA is designed to bounce laser light from orbiting and landing spacecraft to enable precision laser ranging. Too small for laser ranging from Earth, the LRA will serve as a location marker on the Moon for decades.
Surface Exosphere Alterations by Landers (SEAL) is a neutral mass spectrometer that will test spacecraft outgassing and how it interacted with the lunar landing surface and exosphere.
Navigation Doppler Lidar for Precise Velocity and Range Sensing (NDL) will provide accurate altitude and vector velocity data to ensure the spacecraft can land safely on the Moon.
Photovoltaic Investigation on Lunar Surface (PILS) is a small testbed for solar cells based on cells previously used in space. It will demonstrate the operation of those solar cells on the lunar surface.
This first mission will land at location is Gruithuisen Domes on the Oceanus Procellarum, or Ocean of Storms. Astrobiotics first mission is on NASA's flight schedule for 2023.
Astrobotic also won NASA’s Lunar Surface and Instrumentation and Technology Payload (LSITP) program to develop a lunar rover. Astrobotic's MoonRanger could fly to the Moon as early as 2023. The lander will provide power, communications, and data transfer for scientific investigations that it carries or deploys.
- - Read more about the Peregrine Lander on Astra's Artemis page
Intuitive Machines (IM) is developing the Nova-C Lunar Lander. Intuitive Machines' has contracted with SpaceX to launch their missions Falcon 9 rocket. The Nova-C Lunar Lander can deliver 100 kg to the surface of the moon. It makes a soft landing and it can land anywhere on the moon.
Intuitive Machines IM-1 mission called Nova-C is scheduled to launch June 2023. It will land in Vallis Schröteri. This is a collapsed lava tunnel on the moon.
The scientific payload includes the Laser Retro-Reflector Array (LRA), Navigation Doppler Lidar for Precise Velocity and Range Sensing (NDL), Lunar Node 1 Navigation Demonstrator (LN-1), Stereo Cameras for Lunar Plume-Surface Studies (SCALPSS), and Radio wave Observation at the Lunar Surface of the photoElectron Sheath (ROLSES). In total there are five NASA and four commercial payloads planned.
Lunar Node 1 Navigation Demonstrator (LN-1) a CubeSat-sized experiment that will demonstrate autonomous navigation to aid future missions. Developed at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.
Stereo Cameras for Lunar Plume-Surface Studies (SCALPSS) will capture video and still image of the Nova C's plume while landing on the lunar surface until the engine shuts off. Developed at NASA Langley Research Center, it will aid future lunar and Mars vehicle designs.
Low-frequency Radio Observations for the Near Side Lunar Surface (ROLSES): ROLSES will use a low-frequency radio receiver to take measurements to learn how radio antennas are affected on the lunar surface The ROLSES measurements will confirm how well a lunar surface-based radio observatory would be able to observe and image solar radio bursts. Developed by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
IM-2 Polar Mission
Intuitive Machines 2, TO PRIME-1 mission will deliver a drill and mass spectrometer near the south pole of the Moon. This mission will is a tech demonstration of in-situ resource utilization or ISRU. It will measure the volatile content of subsurface samples. IM-2 is scheduled to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket no earlier than June 2023.
Masten Space Systems is developing the XL-1 lunar lander to deliver payloads to the southern pole of the Moon in 2022. Masten also won NASA's "Tipping Point" award to develop Metal Oxidation Warming System (MOWS), a chemical heating solution to help spacecraft survive in sunlight-deprived lunar environments. Masten also continues to develop its reusable rocket, Xogdor.
Masten Space Systems filed bankruptcy and was bought out by Astrobiotic in 2022.
XL-1 Lander Delivering Payloads to the Lunar Surface
NASA selected science and technology payloads for the XL-1 Masten Lander to deliver to the lunar surface. The investigations and demonstrations will help the agency to land humans on the Moon. The XL-1 should be able to operate for 12 days on the surface.
Projects for lunar delivery services and advance capabilities include:
MoonRanger - a small, fast-moving rover that can travel beyond communications range from a lander and return to it. (under development by Astrobotic)
Heimdall is a camera system that includes a digital video recorder and 4 cameras. (Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, AZ)
Lunar Demonstration of a Reconfigurable, Radiation Tolerant Computer System to build computer technology that is tolerant of radiation. (Montana State University, Bozeman)
Regolith Adherence Characterization (RAC) will determine how lunar regolith sticks to various materials exposed in the Moon's environment and in different phases of flight. (Alpha Space Test and Research Alliance, LLC, Houston, TX)
The Lunar Magnetotelluric Sounder to study the structure and composition of the Moon’s mantle using a magnetometer (originally built for the MAVEN mission) that measures magnetic fields. (Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, TX)
The Lunar Surface Electromagnetics Experiment (LuSEE) utilizes repurposed hardware from the NASA Parker Solar Probe and the MAVEN mission to make measurements of electromagnetic phenomena on the surface of the Moon. (University of California, Berkeley)
The Lunar Environment heliospheric X-ray Imager (LEXI) will take images of the interaction of Earth's magnetosphere and the solar wind. (Boston University)
Next Generation Lunar Retroreflectors (NGLR) will be used as a target for lasers on Earth to precisely measure the Earth-Moon distance. (University of Maryland, College Park.)
The Lunar Compact InfraRed Imaging System (L-CIRiS) will deploy a radiometer to explore the Moon's surface and map surface temperatures to study the feasibility of lunar resource utilization. (University of Colorado, Boulder)
The Lunar Instrumentation for Subsurface Thermal Exploration with Rapidity (LISTER) an instrument to measure heat flow from the interior of the Moon attempting to drill 7 to 10 feet (2 to 3 meters) below the surface. (Texas Tech University, Lubbock)
PlanetVac is a technology for gathering lunar regolith and transferring to other instruments for analysis, or put it in a container that another spacecraft could return to Earth. (Honeybee Robotics Ltd., Pasadena, CA)
SAMPLR: Sample Acquisition, Morphology Filtering, and Probing of Lunar Regolith acquire sample making use of a robotic arm that is a spare from the Mars Exploration Rover mission - Spirit and Opportunity. (Maxar Technologies, Westminster, CO)
Firefly Aerospace was awarded a NASA CLPS contract On February 4, 2021. The contract is worth $93.3 million tasking Firefly to deliver a suite of 10 science investigations and technology demonstrations to the Moon in 2023. Firefly is building its lander Blue Ghost that is scheduled to be launch in 2023.
Luna 25 continues the Russian lunar exploration that began under the Soviet Union. For Luna 25, Roscosmos partners with the European Space Agency (ESA) to accomplish a lunar lander mission. For this mission, the Luna 25 lander will land on the Moon using ESA's Pilot-D (Precise and Intelligent Landing using Onboard Technologies) camera. and to extract and analyze samples of the lunar terrain (PROSPECT). Luna 25 lander will also be equipped with a robotic arm.
Luna 26 - Luna-Resurs orbiter
Luna 26 is a lunar orbiter mission that will make UHF radio link tests and gain experience in polar orbital operations. It will study Luna-27 landing site candidates and measure space plasma in the lunar vicinity. Future missions are being planned.
Chang’e-8 is Chinas's follow-on mission that will be used to pave test in-situ resource utilization and 3D-printing technology. Early in 2022, Roscosmos and the China National Space Administration announced plans to set up a joint moon base by 2027, with Change’e-8 planned as a starting point. The base is called, International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) and it was announced in 2022 that they were speeding up their schedule.
These mission are in order by end of mission, incomplete missions may be listed but failed missions will be omitted
Chang'e 5 - China National Space Administration
Chang'e 5 is a Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) lunar sample return mission that launched on November 23, 2020 from Wenchang Space Launch Center. Chang’e 5 launched on a Long March 5 rocket that sent the spacecraft into a trajectory
that got it to the Moon.
The Chang’e 5 spacecraft had 4 modules. The Service Module (SM) systems remained in lunar orbit during surface operations. It was equipped with solar arrays, communication systems, and carried the propulsion system and attitude control thrusters. The propulsion system on the Service Module performed trajectory correction maneuvers, the lunar orbit insertion burn, orbital maintenance and then brought the spacecraft back to Earth. The Lander and the Ascent Vehicle (AV) were released in lunar orbit on November 30. They traveled together to the lunar surface.
The Return Vehicle (RV) was the special vessel that carried samples back to Earth. It had its own thruster system to control its orientation, onboard measurement systems, and communication beacons to announce its location after landing.
The lander set down in the Mons Rumker region of Oceanus Procellarum on December 1, 2020. It arrived at the beginning of a lunar day (lasting 2 Earth weeks) to collect a 2-kg sample of the lunar regolith. The mission had to be finished quickly because the sensitive equipment would not survive intact during the 14-day lunar "night". Oceanus Procellarum or Ocean of Storms was created by lunar volcanic forces. This part of the Moon is thought to be relatively young, about 1.2 billion years old. The lander used a mechanical scoop and a drill to collect samples. It was hoped that samples could be obtained 2 meters or 6 feet below the surface. Chang’e 5 had a robotic arm to gather loose regolith and small rocks and transfer them to the Ascent vehicle. When the samples had been secured, the AV launched from the lunar surface to dock with Chang'e 5 spacecraft. The remainder of the landing system ceased operations after the launch of the lunar payload.
A rendezvous in lunar orbit was another milestone on this impressive mission. The samples were transferred to the Return Vehicle in lunar orbit. The SM and Return Vehicle returned to Earth on December 16, 2020. The SM released the return vehicle and samples. To slow down from the great speed that was required to bring the vessel back, an atmospheric braking maneuver called "skip reentry" helped to slow down the return capsule. It made a hard landing (but not fatal) in the Ulanqab region of Mongolia, China, and was recovered quickly. The entire mission took 23 days to complete and recovered 2 kilograms or 4.4 pounds of lunar samples.
SpaceIL, a non-profit organization with help from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) built the Beresheet spacecraft intended to land on the Moon. Beresheet means "beginning". On April 4, 2019 "Beresheet" completed the Lunar Orbit Insertion Maneuver, making Israel the 7th country to reach the moon. Unfortunately, the mission's lander did not land successfully on the surface. It carried a time capsule, some experiments, and scientific instruments.
Launched on December 1, 2013, Chang'e 3 soft landed on the lunar surface on December 15. It delivered a lander to the lunar surface named "Yutu" or "Jade Rabbit". This rover traveled 114 meters (374 feet) on the lunar surface and was unable to move across the surface after January 2014. It continued to transmit data from its stationary position and was last heard from in March 2015.
Lunar-based ultraviolet telescope (LUT)
Chang'e 3 lander also carried a 150 mm (~6 in) Ritchey–Chrétien telescope that can be used to observe stars and galaxies in the near-UV band (245–340 nm), and can detect objects down to 13mag. The Moon's thin exosphere and slow rotation allows for uninterrupted observations of a target. Its major constraint is that it must be used when the Sun is over the horizon so special filters are needed. The telescope has been powered off by CSNA.
Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE)
LADEE was the first lunar mission launched from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on September 7, 2013. This robotic mission orbited the moon to study the structure and composition of the thin lunar atmosphere (called exosphere), and determine if dust is lofted off the surface. While in orbit, LADEE studied the landing of China’s Chang’e 3 on December 2013 recording what substances (i.e., water, nitrogen, carbon monoxide and hydrogen) might be present due to the Chang'e 3 landing. The LRO probe took an image of LADEE in January 2014 and recorded the impact of LADEE when the mission ended with a controlled impact on January 15, 2015.
Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL)
GRAIL-A and GRAIL-B were launched on September 10, 2011 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The spacecraft went into polar orbits of the Moon. They were used for gravity mapping by taking measurements between the 2 vehicles. The mission ended by controlled lunar impacts on December 17, 2012. The next close pass of the Earth for the probe is expected in 2029.
Chang'e - 2
Chang'e-2 launched to the moon October 1, 2010. This mission produced better maps of the lunar surface. The spacecraft was to help identify locations for a lander for China. Chang'e-2 left lunar orbit and flew to the L2 Lagrange point, where the gravitational pull of the Earth and Sun is equal. Here they tested deep-space communications and tracking for future missions. In April 2012, the spacecraft moved off to flyby the asteroid 4179 Toutatis in January 2013.
Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS)
LCROSS launched with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft on June 18 2009. LCROSS searched for water ice on the Moon's surface by directing the 2000-kg Centaur upper stage that launched it from Earth to impact on the Moon at Cabeus crater. The impact was observed by the LRO satellite. The spacecraft that dropped the spent rocket for impact was called, the "Sheparding Spacecraft". The impact on October 9, 2009 was located at 84-deg. S and 311-deg E on the lunar surface. The impact velocity was ~2.5 km/sec at an angle of ~75 degrees. The missions found evidence that the lunar soil in shadowy craters is rich in useful materials. The moon is chemically active and has a water cycle. LCROSS was built from commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) instruments to keep the costs low.
Chandrayaan 1 was an Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launched on October 22, 2008 from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, India. The probe studied lunar mineralogy, found evidence of water molecules locked in mineral grains, and mapped the Apollo landing sites. The spacecraft launched the Moon Impact Probe (MIP) to the lunar surface on November 14, 2008 at the south pole near the Shackleton crater. Communication from Chandrayaan 1 ended abruptly on August 28, 2009 about 10 months into its 2-year mission.
Chang'e - 1
The Chang'e-1 probe was launched on October 24, 2007 on a Long March rocket. The mission was named after the Chinese Moon goddess, Chang'e. The orbiter mapped features on the moon using microwave imaging, identified elements on the lunar surface, and tested the soil for Helium-3. It also studied solar wind and radiation at the Moon. The probe made a controlled impact on the lunar surface on March 1, 2009.
SELenological and ENgineering Explorer (SELENE)
Also called Kaguya, SELENE was a Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) lunar orbiter mission. SELENE consisted of 3 satellites: the orbiter, a Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) radio satellite, and a relay satellite to receive signals from the orbiter when on the far side of the Moon. Kaguya launched on September 14, 2007 from Tanegashima Space Center. Kaguya's mission ended with a controlled impact on the Moon on June 10, 2009
Small Missions for Advanced Research in Technology (SMART-1)
The SMART-1 spacecraft launched on September 27, 2003 from Kourou, French Guiana by the European Space Agency (ESA.) It was a lunar orbiter and a test for a solar-powered ion drive. Its primary mission was to study the Moon to answer questions about the origin of the Earth-Moon system. SMART-1 performed a controlled crash to the lunar surface on September 3, 2006.
Lunar Prospector launched on January 6, 1998 from Kennedy Space Center. The probe operated in low polar orbit, mapped the surface and looked for ice depositions. On July 31, 1999, Lunar Prospector made a controlled impact on the Moon near the south pole.
Clementine was launched on January 25, 1994 from Vandenberg Air Force Base. After reaching orbit, lunar mapping took place for ~3 months. The mission ended when a computer malfunction used up all of its fuel.
Hiten (Celestial Maiden)
Launched by the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (Japan) on January 24, 1990, this probe was also known as Muses-A. At first the probe was off course and its main science experiment probe, Hagoromo, had failed. The Hiten spacecraft was placed in lunar orbit successfully thanks to an orbital trajectory solution submitted to the Japanese space agency by scientists at the Jet Propulsion laboratory. After 3 years, 2 months into the mission the orbiter was deliberately crashed on the lunar surface.
Recent Mission Failures
Hakuto-R Mission 1
The Hakuto-R Mission 1 lunar lander was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on December 11, 2022. On April 25, 2023, the probe crash landed on the Moon due to a software error involving imagining of the lunar surface. If successful, Hakuto-R would have been the first commercial lunar lander.Hakuto-R Mission 1 (Hakuto-R M1) is a Japanese technology demonstration lunar lander. It was built by Ispace, Inc., a Japanese commercial company. Hakuto carryied commercial and government payloads, including two lunar rovers- - Rashid and the Japanese Lunar Excursion Vehicle. Hakuto-R entered lunar orbit on March 21, 2023 and is expected to land in April.
Rashid was a United Arab Emirates (UAE) lunar rover. Rashid is planned to operate for one lunar day from sunrise to sunset, that is about 14 Earth days. It was to study the geology of the Moon, lunar soil, dust movement, and the surface plasma environment. The rover's mass was ~10 kg. It had four cameras: two high-resolution cameras, a microscopic camera, and a thermal imaging camera. The rover also carried a Langmuir probe that will study the Moon's plasma environment.
The Japanese Lunar Excursion Vehicle is a Transformable Lunar Robot, named SORA-Q. When launched it was an 8-cm sphere, when it landed it was open up into a cylindrical shape. The rover would crawl across the surface in a unique way and carry cameras for surface observations. The lunar robot was jointly developed by JAXA, Takara Tomy, the Sony Group, and Doshisha University. The tiny robot is based on the designs that were used to make transformable toys.
US Ranger probes
The Ranger lunar probes were launched by the U.S. in an effort to capture close-up images of the Moon's surface. The spacecraft flew straight down towards the Moon and sent back images until the moment of impact. The image shows the lunar surface taken by Ranger 7 before it impacted on the surface. This well-known image was the first image of the moon ever returned to the Earth. The first 6 Ranger missions failed for various reasons. But the success of Ranger 7 but NASA's journey to the Moon back on track.
Launched on July 28, 1964 and impacted on the Moon on July 31, 1964 at 10.70 deg. S, 339.33 deg. E at "Sea That Has Become Known" (Mare Cognitum). The regular hash marks in the Ranger 7 image helped to reconstruct the images when they were radioed back to Earth. Ranger 7 returned 4,316 images before impacting on the surface.
Launched on February 17, 1965 and impacted on the Moon on February 20 at 2.71 deg. N, 24.81 deg. E at "Peaceful Sea" (Mare Tranquillitatis). Ranger 8 returned 7,137 images before impacting on the surface.
Launched on March 21, 1965 and impacted on the Moon on March 14 at 12.91 deg. S, 357.62 deg. E at Alphonsus crater. Ranger 9 returned 5,814 images before impacting on the surface.
Successful USSR Lunar Probes
Luna 3 was launched on October 4, 1959, performed a flyby of the Moon and successfully returned images of the moon's far side.
Luna 9 launched on 31 January 1966, the first spacecraft to make a soft landing on the Moon.
It transmitted photographic data from the Moon's surface.
Luna 16 was launched on September 12, 1970 and made a successful landing on the Moon in the Sea of Fertility (Mare Foecunditatis.) The first robotic lander drilled to a depth of 35-cm before encountering hard rock. The lunar regolith was transferred to a soil sample container. The Luna 16 re-entry capsule successfully lifted off from the Moon with 101 grams of material. It returned to Earth and dropped the sample safely using parachutes.
Luna 17 soft landed on the Moon on November 17, 1970 in the Sea of Rains. The spacecraft deployed the first lunar rover Lunokhod 1 that operated until October 4, 1971 (20th anniversary of Sputnik!) exceeding its expected lifetime. Lunokhod had traveled 10,540 m and returned 20,000 images and conducted more than 500 lunar soil tests.
Luna 19 was a Soviet Moon orbital mission launched on September 28, 1971. On November 1, 1972 communications were lost after the craft completed 4000 orbits.
Luna 20 was a Soviet Moon orbiting mission launched on 28 February 1971. It soft landed on the Moon near near the Sea of Fertility (Mare Foecunditatis.) Lunar samples (30 grams) were collected launched from the lunar surface on February 22, 1972 and were returned to Earth.
Luna 22 was a lunar orbiter mission launched May 5, 1974. The spacecraft was identical to the less successful Luna 19 reaching its intended orbit. It had imaging cameras and studied the Moon's magnetic field, gravitational field, micrometeorites, and cosmic rays.
Luna 21 landed at LeMonnier crater on January 15, 1973 carrying the second lunar rover. Lunokhod 2 operated for about 4 months, traveled 37 km and returned over 80,000 images.
Luna 21 was launched on January 8, 1973 and made a successful landing on January 12, 1793 on the Moon in LeMonnier Crater. The second Lunokhod robotic lander operated for about 4 months, covered 37 km of the lunar surface including hilly areas and rilles, and sent back 86 images and over 80,000 TV pictures. It traveled the lunar surface for 4 months.
Zond Program was highly successful. There were 8 Zond missions in total with 7 successful results. More details will be added in the future at Astras.
The first lunar probes
Luna 1 was launched on January 2, 1959 by the Soviet Union and was the first spacecraft to reach the Moon. An early space probe, it discovered that the Moon has no magnetic field and detected a strong flow of ionized plasma from the Sun that moves through the solar system. This is known today as the solar wind.
Pioneer 4 was launched on March 3, 1959 passed within 60,000km of the Moon's surface , the first US probe to escape from the Earth's gravity.
The Right Stuff (offsite links)
Moon Missions - NASA website covering the history of Lunar Missions
Apollo missions were launched on Saturn V rockets carrying a Command Module (CM) and a Lunar Module (LM) and three astronauts aboard. After reaching lunar orbit, one crew member stayed in orbit on the CM, while the other two astronauts boarded the LM to land on the lunar surface. Millions of people watched the events on televisions back on Earth. On the Moon they explored the surface, set up equipment, conducted experiments, took pictures, and collected rock samples. The LM lifted off the surface and the astronauts returned to the orbiting CM for the journey back to Earth.
Launched on July 16, 1969 on Saturn V rocket, Apollo 11 made the first Moon landing on July 20, 1969 at the Sea of Tranquility (Mare Tranquillitatis). Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz H. Aldrin, Jr. landed on the lunar surface. Michael Collins remained in the command module orbiting the Moon. Total time spent on the surface was 21 hours and 36 minutes.
Apollo 11 returned to Earth on July 24, 1969.
Launched on November 14 1969 on Saturn V rocket, Apollo 12 landed on Moon on November 19, 1969 in the Ocean of Storms. (Oceanus Procellarum) Astronauts Charles Conrad Jr. and Alan L. Bean landed on the lunar surface. Richard F. Gordon Jr. remained in the command module orbiting the Moon. Total time spent on the surface was 3.7 days.
Apollo 12 returned to Earth November 24, 1969.
Launched on January 31, 1971 on Saturn V rocket, Apollo 14 landed on Moon on February 5, 1971 in Fra Mauro crater. Astronauts Alan B. Shepard, Jr. and Edgar D. Mitchell landed on the lunar surface. They made two moonwalks and collected 94 pounds of rock and soil. Astronaut Stuart A. Roosa remained in the command module orbiting the Moon.
Apollo 14 returned to Earth on February 9,1971.
Launched on July 26, 1971 on Saturn V rocket, Apollo 15 landed on Moon on July 30, 1971 at
Hadley Rille. Astronauts David R. Scott, James B. Irwin landed on the lunar surface. They were the first astronauts to use the Lunar Roving Vehicle(LRV). They made three moon walks for 18 hours, 37 minutes and collected 170 pounds of lunar material. The Apollo 15 crew spent a total of 295 hours on the surface. Astronaut Alfred M. Worden remained in the command module orbiting the Moon.
Apollo 15 returned to Earth on August 7, 1971.
Launched on April 16, 1972 on Saturn V rocket, Apollo 16 landed on Moon on April 20, 1972 in Descartes crater. Astronauts John W. Young and Charles M. Duke Jr. landed on the lunar surface. They drove more than 16 miles during three moonwalks on the LRV and collected 209 pounds of samples. Thomas K. Mattingly, II remained in the command module orbiting the Moon.
Apollo 16 returned to Earth on April 27, 1972.
Launched December 07, 1972 on Saturn V rocket, Apollo 17 landed on Moon on December 11, 1972 in Taurus-Littrow region. Astronauts Eugene A. Cernan, Harrison H. Schmitt landed on the lunar surface and travel in the LRV. The time of the surface 75 hours and they collected 243 pounds of material. Ronald E. Evans remained in the command module orbiting the Moon.
Apollo 17 returned to Earth December, 19, 1972, this is the last time humans have visited our closest neighbor until another mission is accomplished.