The Israeli private non-profit backed Beresheet mission illustrates the change occurred in space exploration in the second half of the 20-teens. So far in 2019 Space X announced private plans for a lunar flyby mission, China has landed a rover on the moon, Israel has sent a mission to the moon on a SpaceX rocket, Canada wants to join in on the new lunar program of the United States of America. The last entity proposing a lunar mission on that list is not in the lead. Lunar exploration has gone from an activity done only by the largest most powerful nations to an activity which can be done by developing nations, small nations, and large corporations.
How we got here.
At the same time, the United States of America and Russia can working together just manage to put astronauts in orbit at great expense.
In short, first Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites built Space Ship one and flew it to win the Ansari XPrize. This demonstrated that private space flight was not an impossible dream if one was creative enough.
Then President Barrack Obama and Elon Musk forced the world by political power and innovation to see private space flight as a real alternative for practical access to space. Obama cancelled the traditional government owned and operated NASA space craft that was being developed and threw the doors open to private competition. Elon Musk managed to get through that door and into orbit not with a radical new design in the pattern of Burt Rutan but with a relatively conservative design.
The technological change was the Falcon 9 and its reusable self-landing booster stage. This meant that instead of throwing away a large portion of each rocket for each launch, the bulk of the rocket could be reused several times.
This leads us to the Beresheet Mission which will take images and make observations of magnetic anomalies. All of which will be very interesting. However, the simple presence of a private non-profit funded craft on the moon is the real change. For what had once been the preserve of the most powerful nation on Earth is now the target for anyone with several million dollars.
Where we go next.
The real answer of the venerable NASA to this latest Lunar gold rush is in the Exploration missions of their new Space Launch System. However, the SLS will cost a great deal of money.
Space X has serious plans to build a lunar exploration capable craft. However they have not produced much hardware yet.
As the new 20’s* dawn we will be on the edge of mankind making a more durable and sustainable return to translunar space.
*That’s right, in one year it will be “the 20’s” thus making those of us with memories of “the 90’s” or “the 80’s” seem that much older than our years in comparison.