Plans for a European base on the moon have taken a major step forward.
The European Space Agency revealed it has signed up rocket maker ArianeGroup to develop plans for a moon base that could be used to mine material from the lunar surface.
The project will ‘examine the possibility of going to the Moon before 2025 and starting to work there’ – and could trigger a new space race as countries rush to harness lunar resources.
The one-year contract aims to eventually mine regolith on the lunar surface.
‘As ESA and other agencies prepare to send humans back to the Moon – this time to stay – technologies that make use of materials available in space (in-situ resource utilisation) are seen as key to sustainability, and a stepping stone in humankind’s adventure to Mars and farther into the Solar System,’ the space agency said.
‘In the longer term, resources in space may even be used on Earth.’
‘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 says.
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 – a plan we will put to our Ministers for decision later this year at the Space19+ Conference.’ added Dr. David Parker; Director, Human and Robotic Exploration at ESA.
The mission will pit Europe against the US, Russia and China, all of whom are developing moon missions.
Last year NASA revealed plans to take America back to the moon – but will rely on private firms to run the missions.
The space agency plans to work with nine private firms, ranging from small startups to giants like Lockheed Martin, to develop robotic landers and systems to mine the natural resources on the moon.
This will help develop the technology need for eventual manned missions, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine pledged to have a manned lunar base within a decade.
Ariane is hoping Ariane 64, the 4-booster version of Ariane 6, would enable this European mission to carry the equipment needed for a Moon landing.
It is also working with a German start-up, PTScientists, which will provide the lunar lander, and a Belgian SME, Space Applications Services, which will provide the ground control facilities, the communications and the associated service operations.
WHAT ARE EUROPE’S PLAN FOR A MOON BASE?
In 2016, the head of the ESA elaborated on plans to build a village on the moon, designed by London firm Foster + Partners.
‘The future of space travel needs a new vision,’ said Jan Woerner.
The concept is a base for lunar exploration by humans and robots, which would act as a stopover for spacecraft, and become a ‘village’ with mining and even tourism.
‘Right now we have the Space Station as a common international project, but it won’t last forever,’ said Woerner.
‘If I say Moon Village, it does not mean single houses, a church, a town hall and so on. No, that would be misleading.
‘My idea only deals with the core of the concept of a village: people working and living together in the same place.
‘And this place would be on the moon.
‘In the Moon Village we would like to combine the capabilities of different spacefaring nations, with the help of robots and astronauts.
‘The participants can work in different fields, perhaps they will conduct pure science and perhaps there will even be business ventures like mining or tourism.’
Woerner said the village could even help man get to Mars.
‘The Moon Village would also act as a ‘pit stop’ for the further exploration of the Universe,’ he said.
‘Esa is eager to fly to Mars as well.
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