Space Race Through Lunar Exploration

  • Interest in moon exploration has been increasing in the recent times.
  • Moon is the next stop where geopolitics is playing out with US on one hand and China-Russia on the other seek to establish sustainable human presence on the moon.

Significance of Lunar Exploration

  • One of the primary drivers of renewed interest in the Moon is the potential for valuable resources, such as water ice, which can be used for life support and as rocket fuel, making it possible to establish a permanent human presence on the Moon.
  • This will act as a steppingstone for further exploration of the solar system, including Mars.

Potential of Lunar Exploration

Potential source of in-space fuel: water ice

  • The lunar poles are repositories of water ice which could be split into hydrogen and oxygen through electrolysis. This can make moon re-fueling station for interplanetary exploration.

Source of energy security of the future: Helium-3

  • The presence of helium-3 has sparked interests for a potential source for nuclear fusion and energy security for future.

Source of Rare Earth metals-Lathenides

  • Moon is known have resources including lathenides like scandium and yttrium which can be used in modern electronics.
  • Artemis (human spaceflight for lunar exploration)
  • Aims to establish a sustainable human presence on the lunar surface by end of 2030.
  • This is in order to improve our understanding of moon which will help us explore and utilize moon in new and innovative ways.

Important Components

Space Launch System

Most powerful rocket ever

Orion crew module

Spacecraft capable of hosting up to four astronauts on deep-space journeys

Lunar gateway

Similar to International Space Station but orbiting the moon. To be assembled in-orbit


Small spacecraft sent in 2022 to the same place where Lunar Gateway will be.


Artemis 1

Uncrewed test-mission launched in November 2021 to test the various components.

Artemis 2

Goal is to orbit the Moon with a crew of astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft.

Artemis 3

Goal is to land on the lunar surface and conduct scientific investigations.

Artemis Accords

  • Artemis Accords was mooted in 2020 by NASA to foster international cooperation in space exploration.
  • It includes practical guidelines for use of space for peaceful purposes, interoperability, disclosure of scientific data, extraction and use of space resources including mining, and managing orbital debris.
  • Note: Outer Space treaty prohibits national appropriation of space resources.
  • Moon Agreement (1979) expressly prohibits space mining. (Among the significant space-powers only India has signed)
  • Thus, Artemis Accords is seen as an attempt to redefine regulation of commercial space exploration.
  • 21 countries have signed these agreements and joined the Artemis Programme including Australia, Canada, Japan, Luxembourg, Italy, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom.
  • Though India expressed its interest it has not yet joined.


Rover mission of NASA to explore the lunar south pole, scheduled to launch in 2023.

Other important moon missions

International Lunar Research Station (ILRS)

  • Joint collaboration of China and Russia as a response to Artemis mission.
  • It is a collaborative effort to build a lunar base by 2027.
  • It seeks to establish alternative leadership in commercial space exploration.

Chang’e mission

China’s series of moon missions

Chang’e 1

Launched in 2007 to construct a map of the lunar surface.

Chang’e 2

Launched in 2010, was a follow-up mission

Chang’e 3

1st Chinese mission to land on the Moon. It carried a rover called Yutu

Chang’e 4

1st spacecraft to land on the far side of the Moon. It carried a rover called Yutu-2

Chang’e 5

First Chinese mission to collect lunar samples and return them to Earth

Future Chang’e

6,7,8 scheduled to be launched after 2025


  • Russia’s lander mission scheduled for a 2023 launch.
  • Robotic probe to conduct research near the Moon’s south pole.

Lunar Pathfinder

A lunar orbiter mission by the European Space Agency, scheduled to launch in 2024.

Hakuto-R (Japanese private company ispace)

  • World’s 1st private sector mission to moon
  • Lander mission
  • It has already reached the moon’s orbit as of March 20.

Chandrayaan Mission

Chandrayaan 1

  • ISRO’s 1st mission to the moon.
  • It is a lunar orbiter best known for helping to discover evidence of water molecules on the moon. 
  • Orbited the moon for almost a year (between October 2008 and August 2009).
  • Major goals: to collect data on moon’s geology, mineralogy and topography.

Chandrayaan 2

  • 2nd lunar exploration and 1st lander and rover mission of ISRO.
  • Lunar Orbiter-Lander-Rover mission of India.
  • India’s 1st inter-planetary mission to land a rover on any celestial body.
  • Chandrayaan 2 is the world’s 1st lunar mission to the South Pole of the Moon’s near side.

Key Components

Orbiter: Placed in an orbit 100km above the moon.

Orbiter payload

  • Large Area Soft X-ray Spectrometer (CLASS) for mapping of elements.
  • Synthetic Aperture Radar to collect evidence confirming the presence of water ice below the shadowed regions of the Moon.
  • Imaging IR Spectrometer for mapping of lunar surface for the study of minerals, water molecules and hydroxyl
  • Neutral Mass Spectrometer (ChACE-2) to study the lunar exosphere.
  • Terrain Mapping Camera-2 for preparing a 3-d map for mineralogical and geological studies.

Lander: ‘Vikram’ and Rover named ‘Pragyan’

  • The lander-rover integrated module was supposed to soft-land near south pole (about 600 km) of the moon
  • The 6-wheeled rover was planned to spend one lunar day or 14 Earth days on the moon’s surface and walk up to 150-200 km.
  • However a last-minute software glitch led to crash-lading of Vikram and Pragyan.
  • Lander Payload
    • A seismometer to study moon-quakes
    • Langmuir probe to measure characteristics of plasma on the moon surface.
  • Rover Payload
    • Laser-induced Breakdown Spectroscope (LIBS)
    • Alpha Particle Induced X-ray Spectroscope (APIXS)
  • Purpose
    • To find traces of water and helium-3.
    • On-site chemical analysis of the surface
    • To send pictures to earth via the orbiter.


  • Follow-up mission of Chandrayaan-2
  • Includes lander-rover combination to land on southern hemisphere of moon surface.
  • To be launched in June 2023
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