2018 is going to be the Year of the Moon for a number of reasons, not the least of which the number of missions to the Lunar Surface that are being planned. Besides the Google Lunar XPrize missions that have to finish by the end of March, India And China are planning flights to the moon, constituting an Asian Race to the lunar surface. Both will be follow-ups to highly successful lunar missions undertaken by both countries.

Chandrayaan-2 to launch in March

First up, India will launch the Chandrayaan-2 in March 2018. The mission will consist of an orbiter, a lander, and a rover.

While the orbiter remains in lunar orbit, scanning its surface with a suite of sensors, the lander and rover will touch down on the moon’s surface, making India the fourth country to land on the moon. The orbiter will serve as a communications relay for the landing mission. The rover will roll about the lunar surface, returning 3D images to the Earth, and performing chemical analysts of the moon’s soil using a Laser-induced Breakdown Spectroscope (LIBS) and an Alpha Particle Induced X-ray Spectroscope. The mission will be a follow up to the wildly successful Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter mission that happened a few years ago.

Chang’e 4 to land on the lunar farside in late 2018

China’s Chang’e 4 is scheduled to land on the lunar farside later in the year.

The mission is similar to the Chang’e 3 that landed on the moon a few years ago, The Chang’e 4 will land on the far side of the moon, deploying a rover to examine the landscape that has a number of geological characteristics that are different than that of the side facing the Earth. Not the least of those differences is the fact that the side of the moon facing away from the Earth lacks the relatively smooth mare created by volcanic flows billions of years ago.

The Chang’e 4 will need a relay satellite to return images and data back to the Earth.

Meanwhile, what is NASA up to?

NASA’s lunar program, despite the official directive of the Trump administration, has not yet been revealed. The space agency has been working on a rover mission to the moon’s South Pole that may get an official start in the upcoming budget.

NASA is also expected to partner with commercial companies such as Moon Express and Astrobotic to buy missions and place instruments on already planned flights to the lunar surface. The fact of the matter is, the moon is about to become a busy place starting in a few months.