The Moon seen rising over the Goonhilly antenna, taken at 5:27 UTC (06:27 CET) on Monday, 21 January, during an eclipse of the Moon, which gave it a reddish tinge.
If you’re planning on flying a robotic or human mission in the near future to the Moon, an asteroid or even Mars, an indispensable requirement you will face is the need for at least one large tracking dish to communicate with your spacecraft.
ESA has built and operates for this purpose a world-wide tracking network with stations located in Spain, Australia and Argentina. In addition, cooperation agreements between ESA and other agencies allow sharing capacity via their networks as well.
Today, new companies are joining the 'Space 4.0' initiative and are devising innovative solutions in the area of space to ground communication. For instance a company in the UK is redeveloping part of Goonhilly Earth Station, an existing commercial station in Cornwall, to enable it to provide Europe’s first commercial tracking services for missions farther than Earth’s orbit – for example to the Moon.
ESA engineering teams are working to support this effort, as it promises to provide expanded tracking capacity for ESA's own current and future missions.
In addition to expanding commercial tracking services, ESA's mission control and ground station experts are assisting a number of initiatives that revolve around Earth's ‘natural satellite’.
For instance, later this year, ESA tracking stations will provide critical support to China's Chang'e-5 lunar sample return mission, providing communications just after launch and helping Chinese mission controllers determine the precise trajectory of the return capsule.
ESA is also examining how its ground systems and operations teams can support the future space Gateway, a platform in deep space from which human exploration of the Solar System can set forth.
It will operate in the vicinity of the Moon, and serve as a testing ground for the challenges of long-duration human missions in the environment of deep space.