Time Zone for the Moon

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    In News

    • The European Space Agency has said that a universal timekeeping system for the moon is needed.

    Need for the Time Zone

    • No fixed Time Zone: Lunar missions have operated on the time of the country that launched them. But with several lunar explorations heading for the launchpad, the European Space Agency has deemed the current system unsustainable.
      • Distinct planning is being done for the moon exploration by both governmental and private groups worldwide. Every type of conflict can be prevented if the Moon has its own time zone.
    • Increased Exploration: China completed construction of its own space station and previously hinted that Chinese astronauts would be on the moon by 2030. South Korea launched its own lunar spacecraft, Danuri, and India launched Chandrayaan-2 mission.
      • These missions will not only be on or around the moon at the same time, but they will often be interacting as well — potentially relaying communications for one another, performing joint observations or carrying out rendezvous operations, with increased exploration comes the potential for miscommunication.
    • Better communication: A series of space operations around the moon will require spacecraft and controllers to communicate together and fix their positions independently from Earth.
    • Universal Time Zone: The main objective of establishing a universal timekeeping system for the moon is to streamline contact among the various countries and entities, public and private, that are coordinating trips to and around the moon.
    • Successful working model of ISA: The International Space Station (ISA) does not have its own time zone. Instead, it runs on Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC, which is based on time kept by atomic clocks. This helps ease the time difference between NASA and the Canadian Space Agency, as well as other space partners in Russia, Japan and Europe.

    Upcoming Lunar Missions

    • In April, the M1 Moon Lander, developed by the Japanese firm iSpace, is scheduled to land on the moon. The Japanese Space Agency’s AXA’s robot and other payloads are also prepared for launch.
    • The United Arab Emirates is also prepared for the launch of it’s rover.
    • Intuitive Machines, a Houston-based business, created the Nova-C lander, which is scheduled to touch down on the Moon’s south pole in June. 
    • NASA prepares to send four astronauts into orbit around the moon next year. That mission will pave the way for the first crewed moon landing since Apollo 17 in December 1972, currently planned for 2025.

    Project Gateway 

    • A small, human-tended space station orbiting the Moon that will provide extensive capabilities to support NASA’s Artemis campaign.
    • Gateway’s capabilities for supporting sustained exploration and research in deep space include docking ports for a variety of visiting spacecraft, space for crew to live and work, and on-board science investigations to study heliophysics, human health, and life sciences, among other areas. 
    • Gateway will be a critical platform for developing technology and capabilities to support Moon and Mars exploration in the coming years.
    • Gateway will be humanity’s first space station in lunar orbit to support NASA’s deep space exploration plans, along with the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, Orion spacecraft, and the Human Landing System (HLS) that will send astronauts to the Moon.

    Challenges

    • Who will set the time: The international team looking at establishing a lunar time zone is debating whether a single organization should set and keep time on the moon.
    • Technical issues: Clocks run faster on the moon than on Earth, gaining about 56 microseconds each day. The exact difference depends on the position of the clock and whether it is in orbit or on the lunar surface.
      • A day on the moon lasts as long as 29.5 days on Earth.
    • One of the most important things to consider is whether separate lunar time will be helpful and effective for the astronauts working there.

    Way Ahead

    • Efforts are being made to develop a base and support human habitation on the moon. The goal of setting a universal timekeeping system is to improve collaboration across all space agencies. The effort is part of a larger project to create a complete communication and navigation system for the moon. 
    • The international space agencies will need to be prepared to settle on a time zone before the proper time zone can be identified, a thorough research study is required for this.

    IE