Moonlight: Europe Plans Constellation of Lunar Satellites

Moonlight
A constellation of satellites could quickly girdle the Moon.
ESA

The Moon is about to grow to be a busy place. Over the subsequent few years, a global fleet of orbiters, smallsats, rovers, and ultimately crewed missions are set to discover the Moon. And the European Space Agency (ESA) thinks all of these missions may gain advantage from an unbiased satellite tv for pc community.

Apollo-era missions solely had line-of-sight communications with Earth, which restricted landings to the equatorial to mid-latitudes on the lunar nearside. But now the ESA has announced its “Moonlight” initiative, by which two consortia of firms — led by Surrey Satellite Technology and Telespazio — will discover the idea of inserting a everlasting satellite tv for pc community across the Moon. The community would offer an unbiased navigation system, giving rovers and crewed missions alike extra autonomy to entry the Moon’s whole floor, together with the polar areas and the lunar farside.

“Reaching the Moon is the first step,” says Elodie Viau (ECSAT / ESA) in a current announcement. “Staying on the Moon is what comes next.”

Ultimately, the ESA envisions Moonlight as a way to open up the Moon to industrial enterprises in addition to decrease the entry ticket to smaller nations and personal smallsat missions. If a nation or company needs to area a mission on or across the Moon sooner or later, entry to a communications community will already be in place and obtainable.

“We’re proud of supporting the UK’s and EU’s position on the global scene,” says Phil Brownnett (Surrey Satellite Technology), “and we’re proud to be part of this fantastic effort to establish a sustainable presence on the Moon.”

Lunar Missions
Planned lunar missions for the last decade (as of 2020).
ESA / ATG Media Lab

To this finish, the ESA already has a number of associated tasks in improvement. One is the European System Providing Refueling Infrastructure and Telecommunications (ESPIRIT) module, which is deliberate for the Lunar Gateway platform, anticipated to be in orbit across the Moon by 2024 on the earliest.

Another upcoming mission is the Lunar Pathfinder, which can display communications expertise in lunar orbit. It’s already in improvement and set to launch in 2024. Pathfinder may also characteristic a space climate–detection part to characterize the lunar setting for future orbiters. China launched its personal related Queqiao relay in 2018 to hold out the Chang’e 4 mission on the lunar farside.

Lunar Pathfinder
Lunar Pathfinder: a communications community proof of idea mission for the Moon
ESA

The Lunar Pathfinder will present a proof of idea for the full-fledged Moonlight constellation, which is likely to be made up of three or 4 satellites in lunar orbit, plus on-orbit spares. The satellites will present navigation info that ought to ultimately attain the 1-meter accuracy presently seen within the ESA’s Galileo navigation network round Earth. The system would help lunar improvement and even financial exercise on the Moon.

The United Nations can also be presently working to set requirements for GPS techniques across the Earth, and this standardization will possible lengthen to Moon-based techniques as nicely.

The present timeline would see the Moonlight consortia current their feasibility examine to the ESA in 2022 and begin improvement in 2023, with the aim of fielding the constellation over the subsequent 4 to 5 years.

The ESA’s different contributions to NASA’s Artemis initiative to return people to the Moon embody partnership on the Lunar Gateway, constructing the European Space Module part for the Orion spacecraft for deep space exploration, and creating the European Large Logistic Lander for lunar mission resupply.

ESA Lunar Lander
A proposed ESA lunar lander, approaching the Moon.
ESA

Future Moon Missions to Watch

The very first batch of lunar missions are set to move moonward this summer season, with NASA’s CAPSTONE orbiter set for launch from NASA Wallops on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket in June, adopted by Astrobotics Peregrine Mission One in late 2021 and Intuitive Machines’ Mission One in early 2022, each below NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. The first uncrewed flight of the SLS from the Kennedy Space Center is about for November 4, 2021.

We could quickly be again on the Moon to remain, and ESA’s Moonlight community may assist pave the way.


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