moon surface

Australia to send its first rover to the Moon as part of 2026 Artemis mission

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The mission aims to explore the lunar surface and contribute to making the Moon a springboard for sending astronauts to Mars.

The Australian rover will collect lunar soil, known as regolith, and once recovered, Nasa will attempt to extract oxygen from the sample. This is considered to be a key step towards a sustainable human presence on the Moon and potential plans to build a permanent settlement. The oxygen could also be used to create rocket fuel for further exploration of the Moon or Mars.

The rover – as yet unnamed – will travel to the Moon as part of a future Artemis mission as early as 2026.

The Artemis missions aim to “land the first woman and first person of colour on the Moon”, explore the lunar surface, and lay the groundwork for sending astronauts to Mars. It will see Nasa collaborating with commercial and international partners and establish the first long-term presence on the Moon.

According to the Australian Space Agency, the country was chosen to partner with Nasa on the rover due to its expertise in the field of robotics, remote operation and automation.

Australia has one of the largest mining industries in the world and much of the knowledge is applicable to lunar exploration. For example, certain mining operations in the Pilbara region of Western Australia are controlled by teams thousands of kilometres away in Perth, which necessitates expertise in remote sensing, geological surveying, radar mapping and mineral exploration.

In 2022, Nasa chose to launch rockets from Australia’s Northern Territory – its first time launching from a commercial space port outside the US.

Nasa launched its first Artemis programme spacecraft – the Orion capsule – last year in a test of the Space Launch System – the most powerful rocket ever built by the agency. The capsule orbited the Moon while studying its surface in a bid to determine the best locations for building infrastructure on the lunar surface.

Nasa is now planning to send four astronauts into space for a flyby of the Moon and return to Earth in the Artemis 2 mission, which is scheduled to lift off in late 2024. Next will be the Artemis 3 mission, which aims to land astronauts on the lunar surface by late 2025 or 2026.

The agency has also revealed its hopes of landing humans on Mars sometime in the 2030s as part of its Moon to Mars programme.

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