Space is getting crowded

Japan is getting ready to launch a lunar orbiter.

AXA says the SELENE project is the largest lunar mission since the U.S. Apollo program. It involves placing a main satellite in orbit at an altitude of about 60 miles and deploying two smaller satellites in polar orbits. Researchers will use data gathered by the probes to study the moon’s origin and evolution.

India has its sight set on Mars[*2] .

“A mission to Mars might seem a distant dream at this juncture but it is not impossible given our considerable expertise and experience,” a retired ISRO scientist told Asia Times Online. “An India-made rocket like the GSLV [geo-synchronous launch vehicle] can carry over 500-kg payload and reach Mars without a hitch,” Nair had pointed out last week.

China and Russia are teaming up on a Mars mission[*3] as well.

According to the agreement, a small satellite developed by China would be launched along with “Phobos Explorer,” a Russian spacecraft, probably in October 2009, the administration reported.

After entering Mars’ orbit — 10 to 11 months later — the Chinese satellite would be detached from the spacecraft and probe the Martian space environment, it said.

In the U.S. on the other hand, private space programs are where it’s at.  Burt Rutan and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic[*4] space tourism effort and Robert Bigelow’s space station program[*5] are only two of the rapidly growing private space exploration efforts.

Space is still hot.