The US Space Force wants to build a spacecraft to patrol around the Moon

This year, we will celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 17 mission, the last to allow two American astronauts. [Eugene Cernan et Harrison Schmidt] to tread on lunar ground. This marked the end of an era, the “space conquest” was now limited to activities in Earth orbit and the sending of probes and other robots to other planets. [Mars en particulier] or in comets.

In recent years, however, the Moon has once again been the subject of rivalry between powers. So, in 2021, Russia and China signed an agreement to jointly build an “international lunar science station”. For this, Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos is developing the “Yenisei” launcher, whose first flight is planned so far for 2028. And, on the Chinese side, we don’t intend to enjoy the success of the Chang’e probe -4, which in 2019 landed on the far side of the Earth’s satellite. Other missions of this type are on cards, to rely on potentially exploitative resources, such as rare metals.

The Trump administration confirmed [qui l’a même accéléré], the Artemis program should allow the United States to return to the Moon. This one will be based on the SLS launcher [Space Launch System], the Orion capsule and a mini-station called the “Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway”. The goal is to maintain access to the Moon before considering going to Mars.

As for the European Space Agency [ESA], he has ambitions. Starting with exploring the lunar subsoil using RoboCrane and Daedalus robots, one of the challenges is to exploit regolith, a mineral from which it is possible to extract water and oxygen. In addition, he also has – very ambitious – a project to establish a “lunar village”.

In addition, Japan and India combined their resources to explore the Moon. Thus, the mission of LUPEX [Lunar Polar Exploration] should launch in 2024, before a human expedition is considered. In any case, this is a goal shared by these two countries.

That said, beyond the projects undertaken by the States, it is also necessary to rely on commercial projects undertaken by private actors. [qui forment le « New Space »]as in SpaceX, with the ambition to develop lunar tourism.

So much of this project about the Moon could have military implications … In fact, on March 21, the U.S. Air Force research laboratory [AFRL – Air Force Research Laboratory] published a request for proposals addressed to member companies of the Space Enterprise Consortium [SpEC] to find solutions for the “Cislunar Highway Patrol System” program. [CHPS]consisting of building a spacecraft to allow the U.S. Space Force [USSF] detect, track and identify any artificial object moving between geostationary orbit and the Moon [soit au delà d’une portée de 385’000 km].

“The CHPS program will improve our knowledge of the environment in space, in a region a thousand times larger than our current area of ​​responsibility”, commented Michael Lopez, the project manager. “AFRL is interested to hear from companies that may have ideas other than ours and may contribute to the development of the capabilities of this satellite. “, He added.

The challenge for CHPS is to identify “cislunar objects” that are currently not listed [corps de fusée, débris] then follow them to update their positions, the idea is to prevent them from colliding with the spacecraft of future missions to the moon. And this is really a matter of concern: at the beginning of March, the stage of a rocket [présumée chinoise] sleeping for many years has fallen on the far side of the Moon.

“We’re excited to see what the industry can do to help us design and build the system,” Lopez said. “Our goal is to create a satellite that will be critically important as the United States supports civil and commercial efforts in the cislunar kingdom,” he added.

However, the Outer Space Treaty, signed in 1967, states that the Moon can only be used for peaceful purposes. [ce qui vaut aussi pour tout autre corps céleste] and prohibited from testing weapons, conducting military activities there [manoeuvres, bases, etc…]. So it is within this framework that the CHPS program fits. “The LUS Space Force will ensure the peaceful development of space, keeping our missions safe and secure across these distant borders,” the Pentagon argues.

Photo: AFRL

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