5 March 1998
In 1994 the European Space Agency (ESA) developed a phased Lunar programme leading to the long-term goal of creating an infrastructure for utilising and developing the Moon whilst preserving Lunar assets.
The first step in this ESA initiated programme is a unique project called 'Euromoon 2000' which is currently being studied by ESA engineers/ scientists and key European Space Industries. The project is intended to celebrate Europe's entry into the New Millennium; and to promote public awareness and interest in science, technology and space exploration.
Euromoon 2000 has an innovative and ambitious implementation plan. This includes a 'partnership with industry' and a financing scheme based on raising part of the mission's budget from sponsorship through a dynamic public relations strategy and marketing programme.
The mission begins in earnest with the small (approx. 100 kg) LunarSat orbiter satellite, to be designed and built by 50 young scientists and engineers from across Europe. Scheduled for launch in 2000 as a secondary payload on a European Ariane 5 rocket, it will then orbit the Moon, mapping the planned landing area in greater detail in preparation of the EuroMoon Lander in 2001. The Lander's 40 kg payload allocation will accommodate amongst others scientific instrumentation for in-situ investigation of the unique site. Elements of specific support to the publicity and fund-raising campaign will also be considered.
The Lander will aim for the 'Peak of Eternal Light' on the rim of the 20 km-diameter, 3 km-deep Shackleton South Pole crater - a site uniquely suited for establishing a future outpost. This location enjoys almost continuous sunlight thus missions can rely on solar power instead of bulky batteries or costly and potentially hazardous nuclear power generation. As a consequence of the undulating South Pole terrain there are also permanently shadowed areas - amongst the coldest in the Solar System resulting in conditions highly favourable for the formation of frozen volatiles (as suggested by the Clementine mission in 1994).
Earlier this year (7th January 1998), NASA launched its Lunar Prospector satellite which is currently performing polar lunar orbits surveying areas of the moon's surface rarely documented in previous missions. The data now being received back from Prospector strongly suggests the presence of the suspected volatiles (water ice?). Understandably the presence of billions-of-years-old frozen water in proximity to Euromoon's planned landing site would provide a tremendous boost for the implementation of the EuroMoon project now in its 10th month of study. The in-situ analysis of such rare substances will provide an invaluable scientific window back in time (the Moon is believed to have been formed over 3.5 billion years ago from elements of the earth's mantel). The water's constituent elements of hydrogen and oxygen have also the possibility of offering an essentially free supply of rocket propellant and oxygen for exploitation during future activities. EuroMoon is the only mission being studied that can investigate this ice in-situ, while the US satellite will remain in a orbit.
The mission is particularly challenging because of the required landing precision (within 100 m2) in terrain varying between +6 km and -5 km in altitude. Achieving the required pinpoint touchdown capability would allow the future exploitation of other interesting sites. One such site is the 6 km-high Malapert Mountain, 120 km from the pole from which the Earth can always be seen thus allowing continuous communications with the home planet for any future outpost in the region. The 'Peak of Eternal Light' (described above) is in direct view of Malapert, the twin peaks offer the tantalising possibility of both of uninterrupted power and communications.
Euromoon can be seen as be the initial step in founding the first extraterrestrial outpost, founding the infrastructure for a 'robotic village' controlled by a 'virtual community' of Earth-based operators using telescience. This would indeed mark the beginning of an expansion of the human domain beyond Earth without the risk or cost of manned space travel. This concept also forms an essential element of the fund-raising campaign which will create an exciting media opportunity involving all levels of society.
Mission costs will be minimized by using existing hardware and a rapid schedule. Industrial partners would share risk and responsibility of realising the mission by forming the EuroMoon Company. A new marketing and advertising consortium has been formed with the specific task of raising funds through diverse commercial activities.
EuroMoon 2000 was chosen by ESA's Long-term Space Policy Committee as the candidate for the Millennium Celebration and presented to the Agency's Council in December 1997. A progress report, as well as a programme proposal will be presented to the March Council and a final decision is expected in June next.