On August 19, NASA announced the 13 potential sites where the Artemis III mission, the first to return astronauts to the Moon, could land. At the same time, Zhang He, responsible for the Chinese automatic lunar mission Chang’e 4 which landed on the far side of the Moon, publishes an article specifying a dozen potential sites for future missions, in particular the Chang’e automatic mission ‘e 7, which is due to take off in 2024.
The mission includes both an orbiter, a relay satellite, a lander which will deliver a rover but also a drone which will fly over craters permanently in the shade, in search of water. Indeed, if the agencies agree on the importance of these sites, it is because they are near craters whose interior is never illuminated by the Sun and where, consequently, water ice may remain.
” First come, first served ” ?
On the one hand, scientific recommendations have determined which sites would be the most interesting, but also an ambition to use in situ resources (Isru). The agencies want to establish their respective lunar bases near potential water reserves that could be consumed by the crew, which would allow them to take less from Earth, but also as a base for ship propellants.
Indeed, from a water molecule, it is possible to extract oxygen and hydrogen, two fuels commonly used by rockets, probes or satellites. Neither the Cnsa, the Chinese space agency, nor the American NASA, have communicated on their intentions to find an agreement which makes it possible to distribute the sites, or if they will operate on the “first come, first served” method. . Chang’e 7 is supposed to land in 2024 and Cnsa intends to land a first manned mission by 2030 while NASA is targeting 2025-2026 for Artemis III. These landing zones could well become subjects of tension between the two countries if no agreement is reached. As a reminder, the Wolf Amendment, dating from 2011, prohibits NASA from cooperating with China.