The space race seems to be changing its route towards the lunar orbit, judging by the number of announced missions to Earth’s only natural satellite in 2018. Although Mars represented the main focus of both privately funded as well as governmental projects in the past, the focal point of space expeditions in the next year will be our planet’s closest celestial body. Lunar missions in 2018 are expected to be launched from the United States, China and India.
As part of a new order, Space Policy Directive-1, which US President Donald Trump signed in December, NASA was directed to send astronauts to the Moon. This represents a shift in priorities set by former president Obama’s administration. “This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprint, we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars and perhaps someday to many worlds beyond,” Trump said during the signing of the directive. Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has also announced a lunar mission planned for next year. “#ISRO to launch Chandrayaan-II mission to Moon in 2018,” northeast region development minister Jitendra Singh said in a tweet in October. Chandrayaan-2 mission is to send a rover and an orbiter to the Earth’s satellite. The Chinese lunar exploration mission, which will incorporate a robotic lander and rover, dubbed Chang’e 4, is expected to deploy by the end of 2018.
Back in February, Elon Musk announced that SpaceX will execute a trip around the moon for two paying passengers, using its Falcon Heavy rocket. Individuals who have already paid a deposit for the flight will journey aboard the company’s Dragon spacecraft.
Finally, Google sponsored Lunar X Prize, also known as Moon 2.0, called for privately funded teams to land a spacecraft on the Moon, travel 500 meters and transmit a message from the celestial body. As of this year, there are five teams remaining in the competition: Team Hakuto, Moon Express, Synergy Moon, TeamIndus and SpaceIL. Israeli non-profit organization, SpaceIL, plans to launch the lightest vehicle to ever land on the Moon, with a budget estimated at $70 million. Moon Express aims to be the first privately owned company to land on the Earth’s natural satellite, with a plan to eventually create human colonies. In November, Chairman Naveen Jain confirmed that the company will definitely launch in 2018. Synergy Moon is the only team of five in the Lunar X Prize to have working groups from multiple countries and is planning on a launch in the second half of 2018. Finally, TeamIndus is to send a lunar lander and two rovers, planning a shared launch with Hakuto, which aims to finance their mission from the advertising of large global companies.