China targets permanently shadowed areas at the moon’s south pole

(ORDO NEWS) — China is going to land spacecraft in permanently shaded areas near the moon’s south pole to explore the potential for resources found in craters.

Researchers at Fudan University’s Main Laboratory for Electromagnetic Wave Information Science published an article in the Journal of Deep Space Exploration about choosing a landing site in permanently shaded regions (PORs) on the Moon.

It says China’s Chang’e-7 probe will attempt a precision landing at a fixed point in a sunlit area, such as the rim of a crater near the moon’s south pole.

The landing site will also be in close proximity to the PZR, where it will be possible to search and take samples for the detection of water and other volatile substances.

PZRs do not receive sunlight due to their latitude and altitude. With a temperature of around -230 degrees Celsius, the GFRs are colder than Pluto’s surface, making them potential traps for volatiles, including water ice, as well as methane, carbon dioxide, ammonia, and more.

Such resources could help support people on the Moon: water ice could be processed into drinking water, or electrolysis could be used to make rocket fuel.

The Chang’e-7 mission, which is expected to launch in 2024 or 2025, will consist of several spacecraft, including an orbiter, a relay satellite, a ground vehicle, a rover and a “flying mini-detector”. The search for water ice in the permanently shaded region (PZR) is one of the main objectives of the mission.

The search for PZR will be carried out by a miniature flying detector “Chang’e-7”. The main development candidate is a six-legged mobile lander called HexaMRL and developed by Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

This vehicle will be capable of multiple takeoffs and landings, move around with its six legs, and take samples of the lunar regolith.

The authors of the landing site article use Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data from the Mini-RF instrument aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, optical imaging, and high-resolution digital elevation modeling to try to find flat spots in Shackleton and Shoemaker craters to landing and sampling of regolith by a mini flying detector.

The results of this process are then used to study how the Synthetic Aperture Polarization Radar (Pol-SAR) that the Chang’e-7 orbiter will carry can be used to estimate the topography and roughness of the lunar surface for selection of landing sites and sampling.

Microwave radar will provide high resolution images in the shaded area where optical observations are not possible.

The mission could have big implications for the exploration of the Moon if it confirms the availability of accumulated, available resources.

“GFRs are critical because they currently contain the largest potential reservoirs of water and volatiles on the Moon, but we don’t know much about the potential of the reserves,” said Clive Neal, a scientist at the University of Notre Dame.

“There have been a few studies using orbital data to try to estimate the content of the NZR, but we need a full-fledged mission. So we need to get there to understand these NZRs and the ice that is in them.”

The “flying probe” is a way to get point data within the PZR, and this data will be educational. But we need to launch rovers into these ROVs to understand the real extent of the ice both on the surface and in the depths.”

Neil notes that ROV research will be difficult due to temperature and navigation, but adds that the ShadowCam data on the upcoming South Korean KPLO mission will provide much-needed navigational data for NOR research.

Neil also notes that any volatiles in Shackleton could be miles from the landing site and on a 30-degree slope.

China is far from the only entity interested in the volatiles of the south pole of the moon. NASA plans to launch its Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) mission in late 2023 near the western rim of Nobile Crater.

Both China and the US will attach great importance to areas containing volatiles, as both sides have long-term lunar plans, making their confirmation all the more important.

NASA is developing the Artemis program, which provides for a “sustainable human presence” on the Moon.

China, meanwhile, has announced plans to build the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) with Russia. Initially, the station will be robotic, but in the 2030s it will be able to receive people on the Moon for a long time.

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