NASA plans camp on lunar South Pole | Polarjournal
The Artemis program envisages a permanent crew on the lunar station. The timetable is calculated extremely sportily, since the first space travelers are expected to inhabit the station for a longer period of time as early as 2028. (Photo: NASA/ESA)

Mission planners were looking for suitable locations that offered easy access to solar power and a good communications link with Earth to establish the Artemis Base Camp. In the search for a suitable site, the planners came across a side of the Moon’s south pole facing Earth.

While the South Pole region has many well-lit areas, some land areas are in permanent darkness. These unique lighting conditions have to do with the tilt of the moon and the topography of the south pole region. Unlike the Earth’s 23.5-degree tilt, the Moon is tilted only 1.5 degrees on its axis. This means that the sun’s altitude in the sky does not change significantly at the lunar poles, a prerequisite for regularly harvesting energy.

NASA’s Artemis-1 lunar rocket is fueled during a crucial test on June 20, 2022. (Photo: NASA)

While the sun always shines at high altitudes, deep areas hidden behind ridges are constantly in darkness. Temperatures in some of the coldest craters can drop to about -235 degrees Celsius (-391 degrees Fahrenheit). Scientists believe they can find deposits of water ice right here. These resources could be extracted and processed into oxygen, water, and rocket fuel. Water is desperately needed for sustaining an extended stay at a lunar base. Whether there are enough “water holes” in the immediate vicinity of Artemis Base Camp remains to be seen.

The picture shows possible landing points. The green dot indicates the location of the south pole and the green arrows show illuminated terrain. The areas with permanent shadow are marked in blue. Shackleton crater is 21 kilometers in diameter is over 4 kilometers deep. (Photo: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University).

The «Shackleton-de Gerlache Ridge» area is the main target

The ridge between Shackleton and de-Gerlache craters is a highly illuminated region identified by NASA as a potential landing site for future manned landings. The relatively high elevation of this landscape means that some parts are illuminated by the sun up to 90% of the time. Future astronauts could take advantage of this sustained irradiation by placing solar panels in several closely spaced locations to provide near-constant solar power.

The image shows the crater rim and the upper part of the rim of Shackleton crater. The south pole is located on the rim near the upper right corner of the image. The upper slopes of the crater interior are very steep and often exceed 30 degrees. The shadowed interior never receives direct sunlight. Image width is about 11 kilometers. Photo: (NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University).

Launch will be in fall 2022

After the successful test flight of the Artemis-1 moon rocket on June 20, NASA announced possible launch dates. According to this, it will fly to the moon in late August to early September. Artemis 1 will take an unmanned Orion module on a trip around the moon. Artemis 2 will later take four astronauts on board. This mission is planned for May 2024.

The Artemis program’s plan calls for 37 launches of private and NASA rockets, as well as a mix of robotic and manned landings. By 2028, the Artemis Base Camp is to be completed and will house a crew for a long time.

China plans to conduct manned landings on the moon as part of the International Moon Research Station (ILRS) plan. According to a senior Chinese official, China could have a base on the lunar surface by 2030. (Photo: CNSA)

The race to the moon has started

China has planned a series of lunar missions in the coming years that will lead to the construction of an International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) at the Moon’s South Pole in the 2030s. China and Russia have been designing details for an ILRS since last year.

China and Russia have announced in a memorandum of understanding that they would share their experience in space science, research and development. The two countries will draw up a roadmap for the construction of an international lunar research station and work closely together on the planning and operation of the project.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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China plans station at lunar south pole
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