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Accessible Water On The Moon?

In 2024 NASA will have the next man and the first woman on the Moon, they will be the first in a line of new astronauts who will set up an eventual permanent presence on the Moon by the end of the decade.

This mission has been dubbed ‘Artemis’.

One of the necessities for this ‘sustainable’ presence on the Moon is the availability of water. This conundrum was solved in October by the SOFIA observatory, it discovered that water could be preserved on the sunlit side of the Moon. This is still a tiny amount of water, some 1% of the total in the Sahara, but if it can be extracted it would save tons of fuel and prove to be very cost effective in the long run.

Water Ice is in high quantities at southern latitudes, close to the Shackleton Crater, the location for the 2024 mission. The two papers published on this, suggested that 40,000km2 of the lunar surface could hold water ice but we will not know for sure until we actually go there.

The water is preserved in regions which have never seen sunlight; the surface of the Moon is best described as a golf ball, with little divots with water that could be billions of years old. It is still unknown if it can be utilised on the scale required to establish a permanent presence, but it is a reassuring start. 

Prior to this discovery the UK had signed up to the ‘Artemis Accords’ which are intended as a framework for best practice in space on the Moon. The Accords mirror the Outer Space Treaty from the 1960’s and cover areas such as utilisation of resources, mining water-ice for drinking purposes and rocket fuel, common standards, open data, safe operations and assistance. They were signed on October 13th by 8 space agencies: USA, Australia, Canada, Japan, Luxembourg, Italy, UK, and UAE. Since then Brazil and Ukraine have signed them too. Ratifying the Accords is also a pre-requisite for participating in the Artemis Project. 

The Accords have been criticised by Russia and China as being to US-centric, claiming that they make the US the ‘de-facto’ police of space and the Moon. This was not a surprise, with China doing it’s own thing in space and Russia will continue to work with the US for the ISS and other future projects, just not with Artemis. 

Britain has signed up seeking numerous roles in Artemis for both scientists and industrial sector. This includes helping develop and build a lunar space station dubbed ‘The Gateway’.

With the 2020’s already being dubbed the ‘Decade of Space’ and private companies assisting NASA and the ESA (European Space Agency) even more, this could be a defining decade for space exploration and colonialization of the Solar System.

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