European Space Agency presents plans for network of lunar satellites

A mock-up of the Heracles moon lander, which is expected to head to the moon in the late 2020s.

A mock-up of the Heracles moon lander, which is expected to head to the moon in the late 2020s.
Drawing: ESA / ATG Medialab

The European Space Agency has detailed its plan for a network of lunar satellites that will support a human presence on the Moon. The project, dubbed Moonlight, would shape the Moon as a launch pad for deeper space exploration.

the Moonlight Initiative would also serve navigation purposes, helping boats land on the Moon with new – and routine – precision. Once upon a time, the Moon was simply associated with Earth by virtue of the gravitational pull of our planet. With a robust satellite network, messages could instantly float between our pale blue dot and the small gray point next to it.

“This project will enable the efficient exploration of the Moon by creating a reliable and efficient telecommunications and navigation network through a constellation of lunar satellites ”, Elodie Viau, director of the Telecommunications and Integrated Applications branch of ESA, at a press conference today. “But this will only be the beginning … it will help us pave the way for missions to Mars and beyond.”

Today’s press conference kicked off a 12- at 18-one month study period for the project, during which ESA will meet with private sector actors to better understand exactly what such a communication network on the Moon might look like. The proposal comes during the nascent stages of a space exploration boom. NASA’s Artemis mission is slated to see humans return to the Mby 2024, SpaceX winning the contract to build the lunar lander on Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. China recently launched the first module of his space station, a feat that was only slightly overshadowed by later fears about his rocket uncontrolled fall back to Earth.

While perhaps a little less eye-catching than these moves, the ESA plan is an exciting effort tosupported rooms human transit and habitation beyond Earth. This is a serious proposal for an interplanetary hitch station; “The systematic exploration of our eighth continent: the Moon, ”in the words of David Parker, director of human and robotic exploration at ESA. “Themoon is a frame of reference of four and half a billion years of solar system history, but we’ve barely begun to unlock its secrets.

An artist's interpretation of what a permanent human presence on the Moon might look like.

An artist’s interpretation of what a permanent human presence on the Moon might look like.
Drawing: ESA – P. Carril

In one Press release published alongside the news of the day conference, ESA listed some of the benefits such a program would bring, including missions that can land anywhere on the Moon, radio astronomers able to set up observatories on the Moon’s dark side, the rovers moving faster on the lunar surface, the remote operation of lunar vehicles and, perhaps most importantly, the ability to permanently put scientific instruments on the Moon and in lunar orbit, saving payload space and costs on future alien missions.

ESA has selected a few satellite companies to develop the network, including Surrey Satellite Technology, which previously received a contract to work on ESA Lunar pathfinder. After 12- at 18-one month study period (looking at the feasibility of the project), the objective is present the plan to the ESA Council of Ministers for implementation by 2022, with the first satellites operational in the late 2020s.

More: Finding The Perfect Landing Spot For NASA’s Lunar Mission Will Be Difficult

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