(Reuters) - India launched its first unmanned lunar mission on Wednesday joining China, Japan and the United States in a renewed race to explore the moon.
Europe’s first lunar orbiter, SMART-1, completed its mission in 2006. Here are some planned future lunar missions:
-- India’s Chandrayaan-1 (moon vehicle) spacecraft which blasted off from a southern spaceport will map a three-dimensional atlas of the moon, and the surface’s chemical and mineral composition.
India plans to send an astronaut into space by 2014, and a manned mission to the moon by 2020.
-- China launched its first moon orbiter in October last year to scan the lunar surface in preparation for an unmanned moon vehicle planned for 2012. Chang’e 1, named after a legendary Chinese goddess who flew to moon, has since sent back images from the lunar surface.
Last month China launched its third manned space mission capping with the country’s first space walk.
-- Japan launched a lunar probe on September 14 last year nearly four years behind schedule. The mission, nicknamed Kaguya after a moon princess in a Japanese folktale, consisted of a main orbiter and two baby satellites equipped with 14 observation instruments designed to examine surface terrain, gravity and other lunar features for clues on the origin and evolution of the moon.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) hopes to send astronauts to the moon by 2025, although Japan has not yet attempted manned space flights
-- The U.S. space agency, NASA, plans to build a permanently occupied base on the moon, most likely at the lunar south pole, which will serve as a science outpost as well as a testbed for technology needed for future travel to Mars. The construction will follow a series of flights to the moon scheduled to begin by 2020. It also plans to provide a communications system linking Earth and the moon.
Britain could send its first unmanned mission to the moon by 2010 to study the lunar surface and find the best site for humans to inhabit, the BBC reported last year, citing a report by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd., a top British space company
The idea would be to launch two forays to the moon. The first, named “Moonlight,” would fire four darts the size of suitcases onto the moon’s surface from orbit to test for quakes, tremors and other data. If the mission is successful, a second probe, “Moonraker,” would be launched with the aim of landing on the moon
-- The Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) of Russia is also planning human space missions that will include flights to the moon, Russia’s Interfax agency has reported. Russia has a long-range program to develop space industry including manned moon flights by 2025, and a permanent station on the moon’s surface in 2028-2032, Anatoly Perminov, head of the space agency, said.
Web search firm Google Inc. is sponsoring a $30 million competition for an unmanned, privately funded lunar landing. First prize is $20 million for a group that can land a lunar rover -- an unmanned robotic probe -- on the moon, take it on a 500 meter (1,640 ft) trek and broadcast video back to Earth by December 31, 2012.
The prize falls to $15 million if the landing takes place by December 31, 2014. A second-place winner will receive $5 million, and there are other prizes for milestones such as finding relics from previous landings and detecting water ice.
Sources: Reuters, Interfax
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