International space agencies are pushing towards the Moon and Europe intends to play a leading role on the surface. A European lunar lander is being designed to allow a series of different missions with different options for its payloads being studied. ESA’s European Large Logistics Lander project (also known as EL3) is in an intensive study phase and will follow into a full-fledged space project, if approved.
Two payload options were approved for study at Space19+: a delivery of logistics in support of human expeditions to the Moon, and a self-standing European science mission, potentially to return samples to Earth as a high-profile science mission. Missions combining one or more scientific experiments, technology demonstration, and cargo delivery could also be foreseen in the future. The versatility of the lander is therefore a strong part of the strategy.
The selection for the first payload will be made at the end of the study phase in 2022 with more missions for later flight opportunities lining up.
Leading Moon exploration with strong partners
The Apollo astronauts never lived and work through the lunar night – a night on the Moon is 14 days long and temperatures on the surface plummet to a chilling –150°C.
A team of ESA engineers is preparing the development of the European lander to tie in with the Artemis programme. One capability of the lander will be to bring a sizable share of the food, water, air, and equipment for a crew of four women and men working on the Moon through the night. The 1.5 tonne cargo delivery mission for the European lander is much more than simple cargo: it is a survival kit for the explorers of the new frontier.
“In order to meet the challenge to survive the lunar night, we are advancing technologies in regenerative fuel cells and radioisotope power sources that can provide enough energy to power a household for a day with as little as one kilogram of equipment”, says Keith Stephenson, power engineer for the European lander.
Strong partnerships are necessary not only on the international stage, but within Europe as space industry will be building the European lander. ESA is actively strengthening the competition of the large system integrators in Europe and, in turn, their global competitiveness. ESA supports this competitiveness by investing in key technologies – in particular in-space propulsion.
“Finding out what you need for a rocket motor for a Moon lander that is high performance, reliable, and flexible for the mission of the European Moon lander has been an exciting journey over the last two years. We are getting European industry ready to touch lunar soil”, says Rogier Schonenborg, ESA system and propulsion engineer for the European lander.
Sustaining Moon science for decades
For scientists, the Moon’s qualities of being interesting, close, and useful are an enticing motivation and help help to understand our place in the universe. The European lander will allow going beyond short excursions with just a handful of instruments returning small amounts of data. Driven by scientists’ priorities, the European lander allows samples to be bought to Earth from previously unexplored and hard-to-get-to regions of the Moon that will keep laboratories in Europe and all over the world busy for decades.
“In the world of sustainable missions, the European lander must be versatile. Inevitably, there are many sources of mission requirements, some of which we may not even know of yet. The key to system engineering is to anticipate how changes on the mission level impact the required capabilities of the individual systems whilst maintaining the philosophy of versatility”, notes Nick Gollins, ESA system support engineer for the European Lander.
The sample return payload package for the European lander has been studied intensively over the last four years by European industry. The challenges should not be underestimated. In particular the guidance, navigation, and control aspects of a sample return mission and the interfaces with other elements of the European exploration programme such as the Orion crew vehicle need the engineering team’s attention.
“In the last 20 years, half of all Moon landing attempts have resulted in failure. Yet European engineering excellence is fully capable of demonstrating this key technology, and also help motivate a future generation of scientists and engineers”, says Alexander Cropp, ESA System and guidance navigation, and control engineer for the European lander.
The teams in ESA, international partner agencies, European industry, and in the scientific institutions are on this journey together that will bring benefits in the form of inspiration, innovation, and economic growth to all Europeans.
European Large Logistics Lander
|Launch Site||Kourou, French Guiana|
|Mass on Earth||8500 kg|
|Mass on the Moon without cargo||1600 kg|
|Mass of delivered cargo||1500 kg|
|Size||4.5 m in diameter, up to 6 m tall|
Multiple and diverse: