With NASA and the China National Space Administration (CNSA) both recently announcing their plans to establish a lunar colony in the near future, the European Space Agency (ESA) has set its eyes on the moon as well. The ESA is currently working on a plan for a robotic mission to the moon, aiming to launch the project within the next five years.
For this purpose, the ESA has signed a contract with European aerospace company ArianeGroup, which will be spending the next 12 months studying the feasibility of sending a mission to the moon by 2025 with the express goal of mining the lunar surface and extracting resources from lunar regolith.
The collaboration was unveiled yesterday by ArianeGroup and entails a detailed study on the logistics of carrying out a moon mission focused on lunar mining.
“ArianeGroup has signed a contract with ESA to examine the possibility of going to the moon before 2025 and starting to work there,” the aerospace company stated in a news release.
The rocket marker will be partnering up with two other companies — German start-up PTScientists and Belgian company Space Applications Services — in order “to study and prepare for a mission to go to the moon with the aim of mining regolith,” detailed ArianeGroup officials.
— ESA (@esa) January 22, 2019
As ArianeGroup explains, regolith has the potential of becoming an important resource for future space missions. The material can be found all over the moon and essentially constitutes the layer of loose dirt and rock bits covering the lunar surface.
According to the Telegraph, the layer of lunar regolith runs at least 12 feet deep and is composed of clays, minerals, glass fragments, and chemical compounds, such as iron. This means that the material can be mined for resources, says ArianeGroup.
“Regolith is an ore from which it is possible to extract water and oxygen, thus enabling an independent human presence on the moon to be envisaged, capable of producing the fuel needed for more distant exploratory missions.”
ESA’s robotic mission to drill on the moon involves launching a lunar lander and two rovers, all of which will be provided by PTScientists. In a recent post on the Leonard David blog, PTScientists is quoted as saying that the company will send two Audi lunar quattro rovers to the moon and use them to revisit the landing site of NASA’s Apollo 17 mission — the last place where humans set foot on the lunar surface in 1972.
The European lunar lander and rovers are to be shipped to the moon atop ArianeGroup’s Ariane 64 rocket — the four-booster version of the Ariane 6, which boasts a payload capacity of up to 8.5 metric tons. Meanwhile, the mission’s ground control facilities, communications, and associated service operations will be provided by Space Applications Services.
“This 100 percent European innovative consortium could thus provide services for the entire mission, from launch and moon transfer to moon landing and communication on the moon’s surface of the payloads needed for the mission,” detailed ArianeGroup.
The European Space Agency @esa just signed a contract to study lunar mining. The future is coming fast, people. Considering all that needs to be done, there is not a moment to spare. https://t.co/WqkyeHAKIw
— Dr. Phil Metzger (@DrPhiltill) January 21, 2019
“This first contract — symbolically announced on the day of a lunar eclipse — is a milestone for ArianeGroup, which has for a long time been working on technological proposals for space logistics servicing,” said ArianeGroup CEO André-Hubert Roussel.
David Parker, the director of human and robotic exploration at ESA, also gave a statement regarding the agency’s plan to launch a robotic mission to drill on the moon.
“The use of space resources could be a key to sustainable lunar exploration and this study is part of ESA’s comprehensive plan to make Europe a partner in global exploration in the next decade.”
Given the strong international interest in lunar exploration, the Daily Mail states that the European lunar mining mission has the potential to spark a new space race.
European Space Agency reveals plan that could spark a new space race https://t.co/VXv20P4dKg
— Daily Mail Online (@MailOnline) January 22, 2019
As the Inquisitr reported last week, China is getting ready to launch a sample return mission to the moon by the end of the year — with the CNSA already planning three follow-up robotic missions to the lunar surface. At the same time, NASA has recently announced a partnership with nine U.S. companies with the goal of launching its own robotic mission to the moon later this year.