While the 2030s might be owned by missions to Mars, the 2020s belong to the moon.
A number of companies and nations are now planning to send crewed and uncrewed missions to the vicinity of the moon in the coming decade.
Even though many have a “been there, done that” attitude toward the moon, there are still plenty of interesting scientific and commercial endeavors to take part in on the lunar surface.
Here are five of the most promising moon missions coming up before the 2030s.
In one of the more exciting space exploration moments of the year so far, SpaceX announced on Monday that the Elon Musk-founded spaceflight company has two customers that want to charter a trip to circumnavigate the moon.
Musk said the mission should launch by the end of next year, and the two mystery space tourists have already put down a hefty deposit. In total, the week-long journey should cost at least tens of millions of dollars.
Take SpaceX’s timescale with a grain of salt, however. The company’s known for slipping deadlines like it’s no big deal, and while they do usually follow through on promises, there’s always the chance that their lunar ambitions could have to wait a few extra years before becoming a reality.
Jeff Bezos—the founder of Amazon.com and the private spaceflight company Blue Origin—has a dream that one day millions of Earthlings will live and work in space.
And now, apparently that means he wants some folks to live and work on the moon.
A report from the Washington Post explains that Blue Origin, potentially with NASA’s help, is aiming to start sending cargo missions to the moon as early as 2020, with humans following sometime after that.
Details of the plan are still pretty light, but the point of the cargo missions is to precede crewed launches to the lunar surface.
Google Lunar X Prize
This is an exciting one. By the end of the year, a group of private companies should launch their spacecraft to the surface of the moon for the $20 million Google Lunar X Prize competition.
The contest is designed to help spark commercial development of the moon, with mining and other operations on the surface.
Five teams are now left to fight it out for the X Prize. In order to win, they need to launch an uncrewed spacecraft to the lunar surface before the end of the year, land, move 500 meters, and beam high-definition videos and photos back to Earth before anyone else.
While more than a dozen teams started off in the competition, it’s now down to SpaceIL, Moon Express, Synergy Moon, TeamIndus, and HAKUTO (which are from Israel, the United States, international, India, and Japan respectively).
All five have launch contracts, and if things go according to plan, they should launch before the end of the year.
The Indian Space Research Organization is in the process of testing its second moon-bound spacecraft expected to launch in 2018.
The new mission, named Chandrayaan 2, should include a lander, rover and orbiter which will be responsible for conducting science on the lunar surface and beaming back data to scientists on Earth.
Chandrayaan 2 is designed to check out what’s going on beneath the moon’s surface and analyze lunar dirt while conducting science after landing.
Don’t count the world’s preeminent space agency out of the lunar game just yet.
A mission using NASA’s Orion spacecraft and the giant Space Launch System rocket should fly uncrewed in a loop around the moon and back to Earth in 2018 or 2019.
It’s possible that NASA will decide to put humans on this rocket’s first flight, but if that does happen, there’s a chance the agency will change the flight profile to keep its astronauts closer to home.
While former president Barack Obama’s administration put a hold on any plans to return to the moon during the eight years of his presidency, under President Donald Trump, NASA might direct astronauts back to the moon for the first time in 45 years.
In 2016, the Chinese government released a document detailing exactly what it plans to do in the way of space exploration in the coming decades. While Mars plays a prominent role in the country’s space plans, China still wants to send spacecraft and even people to the moon.
The white paper explains that China wants to send a lander to the moon sometime this year, with another expected to fly sometime in 2018. Ideally, China hopes to return samples of lunar rock and dirt back to Earth with one of those missions.
These missions come after the successful Chang’E 3 mission which included a lunar lander and rover that beamed back data from the moon for months.