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Shooting for the Moon

SSTL have unveiled plans that could make a UK spacecraft to the Moon a reality. Changing the economics of space, SSTL have made proposals for two missions at a fifth the cost typical of such projects. In cooperation with the Surrey Space Centre (SSC) have been quietly preparing for a low-cost lunar mission for over a decade. This included projects for the European Space Agency (ESA) and a hardware contribution to the Chandrayaan-1 mission, India's lunar spacecraft due for launch this year. Recent high-profile missions such as GIOVE-A, built by SSTL and launched December last year, and participation in ESA’s Aurora Mars exploration programme have also helped develop affordable technologies in-house that are required for a challenging lunar mission. Returning to the Moon has been proposed by a large number of international planetary scientists in order to answer several key scientific questions. It is a commonly held view that the Moon is just a lump of rock and that it has been fully explored. The truth is that very little is known about our closest neighbour. The UK itself has an active lunar science community keen to support such a (robotic) lunar exploration mission, however, for several years these interests have been eclipsed by the drive to Mars. Recently there is a renewed global interest in returning to the Moon, stimulated by several missions planned by the USA (NASA Robotic Lunar Exploration Program), by China (Chang'E lunar satellite) and by India (Chandrayaan lunar satellite).
MoonLITE
Technologies developed for Moon exploration can be adapted for further interplanetary exploration "“ for example, visits to Mars. This is reflected by ESA’s Aurora programme, which has recently broadened its focus away from just Mars to include the Moon - realising that the risk associated with overcoming the major technical challenges that are faced by Mars missions could reduced by effectively testing the technology with relatively inexpensive and timely lunar missions. ESA is considering a robotic mission to the Moon, but is experiencing pressure on the necessary funding to make it happen. Since June 2006, SSTL and the Surrey Space Centre (SSC) have been working on a study into the feasibility of a low cost UK-led lunar mission funded by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC). The two ideas proposed as a result of the study were named "MoonLITE" (Moon Lightweight Interior and Telecom Experiment) and "MoonRaker". The first, MoonLITE, would propel four golf-bag-sized darts called penetrators into the lunar surface from an lunar orbiting satellite. The penetrators would be sent into different regions of the lunar
Moonraker
surface not previously visited by the earlier Apollo and Russian missions "“ including, for the first time, the far side of the Moon. The penetrators would carry a suite of scientific instruments, such as seismometers used to measure "Moonquakes", to determine the internal composition of the Moon. The second, MoonRaker, would gently land a craft on the South Pole region of the Moon, relaying information back to the Earth on whether or not there is water or traces of oxygen and hydrogen trapped in permanently shaded areas. The confirmation of these would open the possibility of manufacturing resources needed to sustain human presence on the Moon without having to transport it all from Earth.

 

 
 

 

 

16 January 20070 Comments1 Comment

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