If you're Russian to the Moon, expect traffic: Moscow's Putin a lander into orbit
India's close to landing one, too, and Japan is counting down to a launch
If you're thinking of taking a trip to the Moon in the next few weeks, check the traffic report before you fly: three nations are currently preparing their attempts to land on Luna's surface.
Russia launched its effort last Thursday when a Soyuz 2.1b rocket blasted off from Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia's far east, carrying a lander named Luna 25.
The website of Russian space agency Roscomsos is currently hard to reach, but state newsagency TASS reports that Luna 25 launched without incident and is on a trajectory that will see it enter lunar orbit on August 16, then separate from its orbiter and descend 100km before landing on the 21st of the month.
The lander – just a lander, not a rover – is intended to touch down at Boguslawsky crater.
Russia hopes that Luna 25 successfully demonstrates advanced soft landing techniques, and if it works as planned the probe will be first to land near the Moon's south pole.
The lander bears a plethora of cameras and sensors that, in the words of TASS, "will look for natural resources, including water, and study the effects of space rays and electromagnetic emissions on the lunar surface."
Note the mention of water – a substance essential to establishing a human presence on the Moon, as the stuff is too heavy to schlep into orbit. Water can also be split into hydrogen and oxygen, which can then be used as fuel.
Which is why Russia wants to visit Luna's south pole – the deep shadows there are thought to be a prime spot to find H2O.
Also en route to the Moon at the time of writing is India's Chandrayaan-3, which launched in mid-July on a less direct path and is scheduled to land on August 23.
The craft entered lunar orbit on August 5 and sent home the following video:
Chandrayaan-3 is currently in a 174km x 1437km lunar orbit and will aim for a landing site that's also close the Moon's south pole, for similar reasons.
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Three days after Chandrayaan-3 makes its landing attempt, Japan's Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) is due to arrive, if it can find a parking spot. Again, the aim of this mission is securing a safe landing – in this case using tech that lets the craft determine an optimal landing site.
The US and China are also targeting Luna with programs that hope to achieve crewed landings. ®