On the 20th July 1969, we saw Apollo 11 blast off from the USA, sending astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins on a journey to the moon and back. It took three days to get to the moon, and then Armstrong and Aldrin spent 21 hours and 26 minutes on the lunar surface, becoming the first humans to set foot on the unchartered territory. It marks 52 years since the world heard these famous words as Neil Armstrong lowered onto the surface of the Moon: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
The mission, dubbed Apollo 11, was the climax of the Apollo program, which pushed human spaceflight forward faster than ever before. Now over 50+ years since the mission, people across the world are once again celebrating the moon landing, the odds that were stacked against the mission and how it continues to influence spaceflight, space tourism, satellite communications and more.
To celebrate we thought we would highlight a few of the incredible moon focused projects happening across the South East as we speak.
Deep Space Communications
Space Exploration requires deep space communications. In years gone by every lunar mission has had to carry a powerful transmitter that could send signals back to Earth. Today the UK is building a dedicated communications satellite to orbit the Moon. Named the Lunar Pathfinder, it will relay signals back to Earth, meaning that landers, rovers and other orbiters no longer need to carry expensive, bulky pieces of equipment as before.
ESA has funded the Pathfinder, which is being made by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL), in Guildford. The Pathfinder is scheduled for launch in 2023. Once it’s up and running, the next step will be in building a constellation of satellites around the Moon that will provide the lunar equivalent of GPS.
Read more about this mission here.
Analysis of Moon Rock
A team of UK scientists, including those from the University of Portsmouth, have contributed to research that provides new evidence that massive impact events formed large portions of the Moon’s crust. The Moon provides a unique record of how the terrestrial planets formed and were shaped by geological processes through time. But analysis of a sample, collected by NASA astronauts during the Apollo 17 mission to the Moon in 1972, by teams at the University of Portsmouth have shown that previously considered theories of how planets are formed may not be true.
On testing these samples they discovered the sample contained unique mineralogical evidence of formation at incredibly high temperatures (in excess of 2300 °C) that can only be achieved by the melting of the outer layer of a planet during a very large impact event.
Dr James Darling of the University of Portsmouth said: “The discovery reveals that unimaginably violent impact events helped to build the lunar crust, not just destroying it. Going forward, it is exciting that we now have laboratory tools to help us fully understand their effects on the terrestrial planets.”
Read more here.
UK Mission to the Moon
London-based company Spacebit is currently working on it’s Mission One; the UK’s first planned robotic lunar mission.
Its main goal is to deliver the Asagumo lunar rover to the surface of the Moon and demonstrate a new lunar exploration technology related to lunar lava tubes, which is expected to result in more sustainable lunar exploration. Spacebit Mission One will launch on Astrobotic Technology’s first Peregrine lunar lander, which is scheduled to launch in 2022.
More information here.