A close look at the moon, space traffic and electric air transportation

Our cover story about the possible Artemis III landing zones is in keeping with our goal of shedding light on the work of those who are shaping the future of aerospace. The scientists involved with the zone selection will have a big hand in deciding where NASA eventually attempts to establish the first permanent human presence on the moon. I came away from the story sensitive to what sounds like a dilemma: The equatorial region affords plenty of sunlight for conversion to electricity along with hospitable terrain for explorers, but there is strong evidence that the south polar region could hold water ice in its permanently shadowed craters, and this ice could become a resource for settlers to create air and rocket propellant. Our description of the rugged terrain got me wondering just how hard it might be to mine that ice. That made me recall that the south and its craters might not be the only place to find exploitable resources. If you Google “Walking on rocket propellant,” you will find an article from our April 2021 issue that points this out.

Of course, no one can get to the moon without passing through low-Earth orbit, and if we neglect our role as stewards of LEO, the resulting collisions among spacecraft and debris could severely complicate our ability to reach deep space — that is, if we can get out at all. In the pages ahead, experts suggest a variety of possible solutions. In “Speaking up about ‘best practices’ for space safety,” executives from Iridium, OneWeb and SpaceX introduce us to the safe-behavior guide released through AIAA. In “What pilots and sea captains can teach us about collision avoidance,” the MITRE Corp. implores us to remember that we don’t need to start from zero to manage space traffic. And in his monthly column, Moriba Jah suggests a way to financially incentivize environmentally responsible behavior in space. The roots of a better path are probably contained in these articles.

In aeronautics, the coming breed of electric rotorcraft probably won’t be the only mode of electric air travel. As described on our R&D page, Canadian airline Harbour Air is making progress toward a fully electric version of the famous de Havilland  Beaver seaplanes.  Also, the authors of the opinion article, “The unexpected reasons to invest in advanced air mobility,” argue that one doesn’t have to be sure that a technological revolution is afoot to invest in development of these odd-looking electric designs.

The reporting in this issue has me thinking about what we should explore next on these topics. We love suggestions. 

About Ben Iannotta

Ben keeps the magazine and its news coverage on the cutting edge of journalism. He began working for the magazine in the 1990s as a freelance contributor and became editor-in-chief in 2013. He was editor of C4ISR Journal and has written for Air & Space Smithsonian, New Scientist, Popular Mechanics, Reuters and Space News.

A close look at the moon, space traffic and electric air transportation