The first human-built spacecraft to set foot on the moon is on its way to orbit, but it will be in space for just six months before it is returned to Earth.
A team of Australian scientists and engineers has been building the X4 Moon station for two years in a bid to test the feasibility of setting up a human settlement on the red planet.
The first step of the plan is the X-12 habitat, which will consist of a modular structure built to hold up to 12 people.
The X4 moon station is to be built in Canberra, in a facility called the Spaceport and is expected to cost about $1.5 billion.
The space station will also be used to test new technologies such as heat shields and solar panels to withstand the harsh radiation conditions on the lunar surface.
The new station is expected at some point to be used as a base for future manned missions to the moon, potentially as early as 2022.
The facility has been built in partnership with the University of Canberra, the National Science Foundation and the Australian Government.
The spaceport will also house the nation’s first robotic spacecraft and its first human astronauts.
It is the latest milestone in Australia’s plans to get astronauts to Mars, although the construction of the spaceport is not expected to be completed until 2025.
It is a huge undertaking for Australia’s aerospace industry, with the cost of building and operating the complex costing an estimated $6 billion.
It will be the first time an international company has built an orbiting space station in Australia.
The first of the new spacecrafts, the Moonlander, is due to launch in 2019, and will be sent to the space station to help scientists learn more about the lunar environment.
The astronauts are expected to stay there for six months to provide scientific experiments.
Dr Helen Jones, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at the University at Adelaide, told the ABC that the spaceports development had a huge impact on the future of the human spaceflight programme.
“We are going to be back to the Moon, it is going to happen, and it will happen in a very controlled way.”
It will go through all of the testing, the validation, and then hopefully we will go back to Earth and we will start using our own technologies on the surface of the Moon,” she said.
Dr Jones said the X5 Moonlanding spacecraft was scheduled to launch later this year and the X6 lunar lander was also planned for launch in 2020.”
I think this is going down the same path,” she added.