This article provides a brief history of ESA work on Moon missions related to robotics. The article does not provide a complete account of ESA activities for Moon, but it merely mentions those activities which led to work in the A&R group in terms of support to projects or technology development.
After the successful Apollo missions, the idea of returning to the Moon has been always present in the Space Community. However being aware of the enormous cost of Apollo most of the proposals on how to return to the Moon concentrated on building a Robotic Outpost for exploration and In-situ Resource Utilisation (ISRU). On the initiative of Switzerland and ESA, representatives of Space Agencies, scientific institutions and space industry met in Beatenberg (CH) between 31st May and 3rd June 1994 to consider plans for the implementation of internationally coordinated programmes for robotic and human Lunar Exploration.
In late 1994 ESA launched the” Lunar Exploration Demonstration Approach” (LEDA) study to define an European Approach to Lunar Exploration.
The A&R section had a big stake in the conceptual development of robotics to be used in the approach: a first consultancy activity called “Analysis and Definition of a Technology Demonstration Experiment for Moon Based Robot Manipulation System” (LUMATEX) was followed in 1995 by the R&D activity “RObotics for Lunar EXploration” (ROLEX).
The A&R Section initiated a series of development activities to evaluate the use of rovers in the LEDA context. These produced a “Lunar Rover Mockup” (LRM), a “Rover Robotic Payload” (RRP) and a sub-soil radar sounder (RONAR). In 1996 the American Spacecraft Clementine found water in the south pole of the Moon. This discovery re-invigorated the interest on the Moon of the Space Community.
At ESA, the first step identified by LEDA was launched. The project was called EUROMOON 2000 and it aimed at delivering a Lander on the “Peak of eternal light” on the rim of the 20 km-diameter Shackleton South Pole Crater.
Again the A&R Section provided support for Robotics issues.
However due to lack of adequate funding the EUROMOON 2000 was cancelled by ESA’s Director General on March 25,1998.
The new Moon initiative
Moon related activities ESA have accelerated after the announcement made by U.S. President Bush of a New Vision for Space Exploration Program on January 14, 2004. In particular a “Lunar Exploration Study” was performed in the Concurrent Design Facility. The study, supported by the A&R section identified few robotics elements which ESA could provide as contribution to an International Lunar Exploration Mission.
- International Lunar Workshop, 1994 May 31-June 3, Beatenberg, Switzerland. Proceedings. Ed. Balsiger, H. et al. European Space Agency, 1994. ESA-SP-1170
- D. Kassing & M. Novara, "LEDA - A First Step in ESA's Lunar Exploration Initiative", ESA Bulletin nr.82, May 1995
- EuroMoon 2000 - A Plan for a European Lunar South Pole Expedition, ESA BR122, ISBN 92-9092-428-4