21/Aug/2014 - Last News Update: 05:05

Europe plans large lunar lander

Category: Headlines

Published: 16th Sep 2010 11:25:35

Europe is pressing ahead with plans to send a sophisticated, unmanned spacecraft to the surface of the Moon.

EADS Astrium has been awarded a 6.5m-euro contract by the European Space Agency (Esa) to do further detailed design work on the mission.

The 700-800kg robot would be aimed at the lunar south pole, using automated systems to guide itself into a gentle, precision landing.

Once down, it would release a small rover to trundle across the surface.

"The lander will have a set of scientific instruments onboard but the science will be geared towards human exploration," said Simonetta Di Pippo, the director of human spaceflight at Esa.

"We will be looking for minerals and, hopefully, water in the soil, to see if we can prepare for a sustainable presence on the surface of the Moon," she told BBC News.

Recent spacecraft observations have indicated that some polar craters on the Moon probably hide vast reserves of ice deep in their shadows.

The new study is being led by the German division of EADS Astrium.

Michael Menking from the company observed: "This is an important technology project. For sure, it's dedicated to the Moon but if you can make a soft, precision landing on the lunar surface you can also do it on other planetary bodies as well."

The feasibility work conducted in industry, known as a Phase B1 study, will elaborate the lander's key specifications, and initiate some component development and testing.

These investigations will inform the fully costed mission proposal (likely to come out at several hundred million euros), which will go before Europe's space ministers for final approval in 2012.

If the politicians like the concept and decide to fund it, the robot could leave Earth on a Soyuz rocket before the decade's end.

The mission would build upon the experience gained from Europe's highly successful Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), which resupplies the International Space Station (ISS).

Once in orbit, this 20-tonne freighter is capable of finding its own way to the platform using advanced navigation and sensor technologies.

In a similar vein, the Moon lander would have to take itself to a specific location, scan the area for slopes and boulders, and then pick out a safe place to put down.

"You need to have hazard-avoidance," said Bruno Gardini, who heads the Esa department in which the lunar lander project is embedded.

"During the descent, you have to keep targeting two or three different landing sites, and so you have to keep the algorithm available which is a very heavy load on the onboard processor. You need to be ready to switch from one site to another to select the one that has lowest risk."

The spacecraft would be targeted at the lunar south pole because it has locations that enjoy extended sunlight. This is necessary because Europe does not possess the radioisotope space technology capable of generating the power and heat needed by robots to survive long periods of darkness.

One possible landing site already under discussion is a ridge close to Shackleton Crater where the Sun stays above the horizon for months on end. Solar panel and battery technology should be sufficient to sustain the robot at such a location.

"Depending on the illumination pattern, we would hope to have a mission lasting several months, up to half a year," explained Richard Fisackerly from Esa's project team.

"The patterns we're looking at actually don't consider continuous illumination, but we should be able to tolerate very short periods of darkness which may be brought about by obstacles on the horizon."

As well as looking for any local resources that could be used by future human explorers, the lander's instruments would also assess the lunar environment to understand the risks it could pose to astronauts, said Esa project team-member James Carpenter.

"These have been identified as radiation and its effects on human physiology; and the lunar dust environment - both in terms of the physics of the behaviour of the lunar dust and the way it will interact with the systems that are on the surface, but also in terms of the potential health effects of lunar dust when it comes into contact with humans," he told BBC News.

Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk

Source:
BBC News External Link Show Citation

Latest News

Harvard Citation

BBC News, 2010. Europe plans large lunar lander [Online] (Updated 16th Sep 2010)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/90738/Europe-plans-large-lunar-lander [Accessed 21st Aug 2014]

News In Other Categories

  • Treasury Wine Estates hit as it destroys excess wine

    Australian winemaker Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) has reported its first annual loss due to slower sales in China and oversupply in the US market.
  • Bristol Academy extends reach overseas with first foreign students

    With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com
  • Firms urged to agree to Scottish parcel delivery guidelines

    Online retailers and delivery companies have been urged to agree to work to guidelines designed to offer people in rural areas fair delivery charges.
  • Yachtsman taken to hospital after Newport Bay incident

    A yachtsman has been taken to hospital after getting into difficulty in Newport Bay in Pembrokeshire.
  • US judge: Shakira hit song Loca 'broke copyright laws'

    A hit song by Colombian pop star Shakira was indirectly copied from another songwriter's work, a federal judge in New York has found.
  • Pro-choice rally at Belfast City Hall

    More than 100 abortion pro-choice activists have held a demonstration outside Belfast City Hall.