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Monday 6 February 2023 Dublin: 3°C
SpaceX Twitter Falcon 9 rocket vertical on a pad in Florida ahead of its launch.
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SpaceX mission carrying DCU samples to the moon postponed by 24 hours
The samples are set to become the first Irish samples to reach the moon since the 1970s.

LAST UPDATE | Nov 30th 2022, 8:25 AM

A MISSION SET to carry polymer and metal samples created in a DCU lab to the moon has been delayed by one day.

The samples were produced in the university’s School of Chemical Sciences and were affixed to the wheel of the Rashid Lunar Rover.

They will be the first Irish samples to reach the moon since the 1970s.

SpaceX confirmed the postponement of the mission – which would also see the launch of the first private and Japanese lander – by 24 hours to allow for additional pre-flight checks in a Tweet this morning.

Speaking to The Journal, Dr Susan Kelleher, an Assistant Professor of Polymer Chemistry at DCU who led the preparation of the samples, confirmed that they are still aboard the vessel and will be used to study how moon dust adheres to different surfaces.

“Moon dust is very sticky and gets everywhere,” she said.

“It’s abrasive and can damage seals on instruments or interfere with electronics.

“It’s been named as one of NASA’s top ten challenges in getting to the moon and further still, understanding how to stop [its dust] from sticking things is a big question.”

Eight sample surfaces, a combination of polymer and metal samples with micro- and nano-scale patterns on their surface as well as unpatterned control samples, were prepared for the lunar rover  last year with the help of funding from both Science Foundation Ireland and the Irish Research Council.

The United Arab Emirates Space Centre and the European Space Agency worked alongside Dr Kelleher and her team throughout the project.

The Falcon 9 rocket carrying the samples is now scheduled to blast off at 3:37 am (08:37 Irish time) on Thursday from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Hakuto-R

Until now, only the United States, Russia, and China have managed to put a robot on the lunar surface.

The mission, by Japanese company ispace, is the first of a programme called Hakuto-R.

The lander would touch down around April 2023 on the visible side of the Moon, in the Atlas crater, according to a company statement.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket being launched as part of the Japanese mission is carrying the UAE-built Rashid Lunar Rover, which contains the DCU samples.

The oil-rich country is a newcomer to the space race but counts recent successes including a Mars probe in 2020. If it succeeds, Rashid will be the Arab world’s first Moon mission.

“We have achieved so much in the six short years since we first began conceptualizing this project in 2016,” said ispace CEO Takeshi Hakamada.

Hakuto was one of five finalists in the international Google Lunar XPrize competition, a challenge to land a rover on the Moon before a 2018 deadline, which ended without a winner. But some of the projects are still ongoing.

Another finalist, from the Israeli organization SpaceIL, failed in April 2019 to become the first privately-funded mission to achieve the feat, after crashing into the surface while attempting to land.

ispace, which has just 200 employees, says it “aims to extend the sphere of human life into space and create a sustainable world by providing high-frequency, low-cost transportation services to the Moon.”

Future missions are set to contribute to NASA’s Artemis program. Artemis-1, an uncrewed test flight to the Moon, is currently underway.

The US space agency wants to develop the lunar economy in the coming years by building a space station in orbit around the Moon and a base on the surface.

It has awarded contracts to several companies to develop landers to transport scientific experiments to the surface.

Among them, the American companies Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines should take off in 2023, and could arrive at their destination before ispace by taking a more direct route, according to reports.

Additional reporting from AFP. 

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