Testing ESA prototypes for geological sampling tools underwater
Science & Exploration

Building a toolkit for the Moon

18/07/2019 2045 views 51 likes
ESA / Science & Exploration / Human and Robotic Exploration

As the world celebrates 50 years since the first lunar landing, the team at ESA’s astronaut centre is looking to the future of lunar exploration. This includes developing prototypes for rock and soil sampling equipment to be used on the Moon.

The crew of Apollo 11 were the first to bring Moon samples back to Earth. The 50 lunar rocks from that mission continue to aid scientists’ understanding of the Moon’s geological make-up as well as the origin of our planet, and sample collection will be a key part of future lunar missions.

Inspired by Apollo, enabled by experts

ESA head of spacewalk training and Neutral Buoyancy Facility (NBF) operations Hervé Stevenin says the project to develop more efficient tools for lunar geological sampling stemmed from a three-year Moondive study carried out by French company Comex on behalf of ESA.

This study looked at how the 10-m deep Neutral Buoyancy pool at the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne, Germany, could be used to simulate lunar gravity underwater to test equipment, tools and operational concepts for lunar exploration, and mimic activities astronauts will perform on the Moon. The collection and return of geological samples was one of several areas ripe for innovation.

In 2016, NASA provided ESA with replicas of the lunar surface geological sampling tools used by the crew of Apollo 11. These were assessed by ESA’s spacewalk experts underwater during the first lunar spacewalk simulations in the NBF and led to the design of more maneuverable solid scoop and tong-tool prototypes, as well as the Nearby Equipment Support Trolley (NEST) and a geological sample marking system that ESA has today. 

An iterative process
An iterative process

“By combining the spacewalk expertise of our team with the planetary geological knowledge and skills provided by ESA’s Pangaea astronaut training, we have rapidly developed, tested and refined viable prototypes for geological sampling,” Hervé explains.

“Having our spacewalk experts become skilled in lunar geology and gain awareness of the scientific requirements of an efficient geological traverse has boosted our understanding of what it will take to collect scientifically relevant samples from the lunar surface. We have been able to combine this knowledge with what we know about the constraints of lunar spacewalks to create prototypes that work for both scientists and astronauts.”

An iterative process

ESA Young Graduate Trainee Dorota Budzyn
ESA Young Graduate Trainee Dorota Budzyn

Young graduate trainee Dorota Budzyń joined ESA in 2017 and has since been working on the design and assembly of the lunar sampling tools and NEST.

Most recently, she supported the underwater test of the prototypes by ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins during NASA’s NEEMO 23 mission in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida, USA.

“Each stage of development for these lunar sampling tools and NEST follows the same iterative process,” Dorota explains. “This includes analysing requirements, developing designs, 3D printing low-fidelity models, and testing operations on the ground and in immerged lunar gravity simulations underwater.

An example of this in action was testing with ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer during the Pangaea-X mission in Lanzarote, Spain, last year.

The team began with two support trolleys of different sizes, but found the ultimate balance of functionality and manoeuvrability lay somewhere in the middle. This led to the NEST prototype tested during NEEMO 23 that can be reconfigured to lie flat if needed.

Next steps for development

Testing lunar tools underwater
Testing lunar tools underwater

Thinking about the way concepts for lunar exploration may look in the future, Hervé says he sees similarities between the geological sampling tools and another ESA prototype for the rapid rescue of an incapacitated moonwalker known as Lunar Evacuation System Assembly (LESA)

“These two ideas could be merged in a multi-purpose piece of equipment that would ease geological sampling, and payload transport and setup that is quickly reconfigurable for astronaut rescue,” he explains.

“LESA would then become a Swiss Army Knife kit for lunar EVAs. This is something we will look at in the next phases of design, which could lead to the development of flight units built by European industry.”

ESA is joining the international space community in celebrating the 50th anniversary of humankind first setting foot on the Moon and paying tribute to the men and women who took part in this endeavour, some of whom went on to work in later NASA, ESA and international space programmes. Today, ESA and our partners are busy preparing to return humans to the surface of the Moon. During this week, we will focus on the different lunar missions being prepared by ESA and highlight of some fascinating European contributions to lunar exploration.

Related Articles

Moon seen from Space Station
Science & Exploration

To the Moon – down south

16/07/2019 2717 views 73 likes
Open item
The Moon as seen from the Space Station
Applications

ESA identifies demand for satellites around the Moon

16/07/2019 2333 views 76 likes
Open item
Heracles
Science & Exploration

Developing a high-performance rocket motor for the Heracles…

16/05/2019 1423 views 16 likes
Open item
ALINA on the Moon
Science & Exploration

Starting up a new cooperation for the Moon

08/05/2019 1536 views 20 likes
Open item
Testing the Heracles lunar rover
Science & Exploration

Guidance and navigation systems for Heracles

18/04/2019 536 views 7 likes
Open item
Moonrise
Science & Exploration

ESA and NASA to team up on lunar science

28/03/2019 5912 views 122 likes
Open item
Space gateway
Science & Exploration

Gateway to the Moon

11/03/2019 13323 views 222 likes
Open item
In-Situ Resource Utilisation
Science & Exploration

Astrobotic team to study delivery of lunar resources mission

26/02/2019 738 views 9 likes
Open item
The extent of Earth’s geocorona
Science & Exploration

Earth’s atmosphere stretches out to the Moon – and beyond

20/02/2019 61819 views 274 likes
Open item
Moon dust on astronaut after moonwalk
Science & Exploration

Project Pextex: materials for lunar spacesuits

15/02/2019 2702 views 44 likes
Open item
Multispectral view
Science & Exploration

A new camera for lunar exploration

29/01/2019 739 views 7 likes
Open item
Helga, the radiation dummy
Science & Exploration

Radiation for dummies

25/01/2019 10126 views 133 likes
Open item
Science & Exploration

Preparing astronaut lunar exploration

23/01/2019 4700 views 75 likes
Open item
Creativity room at EAC
Science & Exploration

Bold ideas for life off Earth

24/01/2019 849 views 10 likes
Open item
Space Station Moon
Agency

Moving on the Moon

23/01/2019 5766 views 90 likes
Open item
Lunar attraction
Science & Exploration

Total lunar eclipse 2019

18/01/2019 11821 views 97 likes
Open item
Station Moon transit
Science & Exploration

Moon engine now in development

08/10/2018 4509 views 67 likes
Open item
1.5 tonne building block
Science & Exploration

Bricks from Moon dust

20/08/2018 15577 views 148 likes
Open item
The Moon as seen from the Space Station
Science & Exploration

The toxic side of the Moon

04/07/2018 18471 views 502 likes
Open item
Brick 3D printed from moondust using focused sunlight
Enabling & Support

Printing bricks from moondust using the Sun’s heat

03/05/2017 12600 views 131 likes
Open item
Goonhilly antenna
Enabling & Support

Goonhilly goes deep space

22/02/2018 5039 views 97 likes
Open item
Science & Exploration

First steps: returning humanity to the Moon

20/09/2017 16279 views 292 likes
Open item
In-Situ Resource Utilisation
Agency

Water and oxygen made on the Moon

2026 views 13 likes
Open item

Related Links