The scramble for the Moon: Marcal Sanmarti discusses the growing competition to secure access to lunar resources.

AuthorSanmarti, Marcal

On May 2019 the United States announced their controversial Artemis Program to return humans to the Moon by 2024 and also for private companies to exploit lunar resources. On December 2020 China recovered precious lunar samples after a successful re-entry and landing of the Chang'e-5 return capsule. China also has plans to return humans to the Moon during the next decade. Scheduled for October 2021, the robotic Luna-25 will be the first Russian or Soviet moon mission since 1976. India has announced plans for a third lunar mission, Chandrayan-3, this year, months after its last one crash landed on the Moon's surface. And the European Space Agency (ESA) apart from collaborating with NASA and Roscosmos (the Russian space agency) on their Moon missions, even has plans to develop a village on our natural satellite by 2030. (1)

But the big guys are not alone. Israeli company SpaceIL successfully launched its Beresheet lander and entered lunar orbit in April 2019. It was the first Israeli spacecraft to travel beyond Earth's orbit and was the worldwide first to be privately funded, but unfortunately it crashed during landing. Still, Beresheet 2 plans to return to the Moon by 2024. (2) On February 2021 Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan revealed a ten-year space programme that would see the country send a Turkish citizen to the Moon by 2023 to mark the republic's centennial. Even more surprisingly, a plan to build a spaceport in Somalia (still struggling with guerrillas but near the Equator) was announced, too. (3) Yet, another Middle Eastern nation has lunar aspirations. In November 2020 the United Arab Emirates announced plans to send a compact rover named Rashid to study the Moon in 2024. The Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai says its in-house teams will develop, build and operate the 10-kilogram rover, which is named after the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, who ruled Dubai at the UAE's creation in 1971. (4)

How come that even the geopolitically tense Middle East is embracing this Moon Rush? There is a direct political message that space can deliver--hope. In fact, that was the name the UAE used for their past Mars mission. Hope in progress, hope that if we assume sacrifices and failures in the present-time we can achieve a better future, even dreams that most of us think impossible. This message of hope is fundamental in any manual of leadership but also essential to deliver to the young generation that sees the world of their parents disappearing but cannot see yet perspectives for their own futures. The Middle East experienced quite a lot of those explosions of frustration during the Arab Spring. But they were not unique to that region. It was just an advance warning to the rest of the planet. We can see how protests in the West are becoming more numerous and aggressive--another reality that the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated. The Yellow Vest protest in France started back in October 2018 and still continues. Moreover, let us not forget that the Apollo mission to the Moon in 1969 took place during civil rights protest in the United States.

Is that it then? Is this Moon Rush just another political stunt to gain domestic support while showing muscle externally, as during the Cold War times? Not quite. This time there is much more than reputation at stake.

Cislunar economy

Keep the concept of Cislunar economy in mind because it will be heard of more often in the near future. It means the group of economic activities taking place in space either on the Moon or in orbit around the Earth or the Moon. We are not talking about the geo-stationary belt of satellites that provides us with data from the exosphere. We are talking about even more disruptive developments. Zero gravity factories for example. In space 3D printers have an ally in the absence of gravity. Right now, private companies are using the International Space Station to experiment with biological 3D printing of human organs. Biological printing of the tiny, complex structures found inside human organs, such as capillaries, has proven difficult in Earth's gravity. Under Earth's gravity, an initial scaffolding, or support structure, is...

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