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Leap of Faith: Japan Aiming to Send Hopping Spacecraft Fuelled by Lunar Water to Moon

CC0 / / Moon
Moon - Sputnik International
The project for a top-notch station, Gateway, is a would-be collaboration with the US, and has already driven the Japanese space agency to apply for hefty government funding – around $2.7 billion yearly for the next 15 years.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has asserted it intends to engage in a lunar exploration mission beginning in the mid-2030s, making use of hydrogen fuel that would be locally produced right on the Moon's surface from water extracted from its vast ice deposits, The Japan Times reported.

Making use of local water and water-derived fuel is expected to cost significantly less than transporting the needed amount of water from Earth. According to JAXA's estimates, 37 tonnes of water will be necessary for a trip to and from the Gateway, a lunar orbit space station that is to be built jointly with the US. Overall, five to seven such missions are planned.

While the station itself is expected to be erected in the 2020s, the lunar south pole, researchers hope, will see a fuel factory built there years later, by around 2035. JAXA has projected that the fuel will be used in a reusable spacecraft tasked with carrying four astronauts to and from Gateway, and a transport vehicle that can travel up to 1,000 kilometres along the Moon’s surface, which has low gravity – a feature that will make the transport vehicle be wheel-less, but rather hop across the land.

Small inner moon of Saturn, Enceladus seen here in a mosaic of Voyager 2. (File) - Sputnik International
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The science ministry plans to request a record high ¥280 billion ($2.7 billion) for JAXA in its budget inquiry for the next fiscal year. Over the past ten years, the ministry's annual funds have not exceeded ¥190 billion ($1.8 billion).

Not only the US and Japan have been expressing an intention to dig further for water resources on the Moon. China, which has already landed an unmanned spacecraft on the lunar surface, is planning to send a probe to the Moon later this year to collect soil samples.

Independently, Russian space industry giant Korolev Rocket & Space Corporation Energia has recently created and patented a means to fly cosmonauts to the Moon and back without an expensive new heavy-launch rocket. To land cosmonauts on the Moon and bring them back home, the patented system requires one Soyuz-2.1a rocket and three upgraded Angara A5V rockets.

Russia's State Corporation for Space Activities (Roscosmos) envisions launching a manned flight to the Moon by 2030, according the agency's chief, Dmitriy Rogozin, who recently referred to China as the most likely partner for Russia to create a brand new base on Earth's natural satellite.

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