As the return of human missions to the Lunar surface, “Forward to the Moon” continues to accelerate, focusing international effort and resources, SSTL Lunar is offering off-planet communication and navigation services - the prime opportunity to position themselves as the “hub” for off-planet communication and navigation services. Space mission utility and ambition are increasing, yet for many, space exploration remains a challenge and budgets are under pressure. For small missions, in particular, the key barriers are still affordable access to lunar and deep space orbits and communications back to Earth.
Vision and approach
The Lunar comms and navigation services, supported by the European Space Agency (ESA) under a commercial partnership programme, has the vision of setting up a sustainable infrastructure around the Moon, capable of supporting communication and navigation needs of lunar assets, in a reliable and cost-effective way.
By mutualising and commercialising the data-relay infrastructure, lunar assets will benefit from a cost-effective way of managing their communication and navigation needs, which in turn, will free effort and resource to focus on the scientific value of their mission.
Depending on the location of the customer asset, as shown above, customers will draw various levels of benefits from the data-relay services.
Surface assets on the far side of the Moon will require a data-relay spacecraft to communicate with the Earth, and Polar surface assets, potentially with limited direct to Earth visibility, will also find the use of data-relay services a mission enabler. Rovers, constrained to remain within line of sight of the lander to relay their communication, will find a new independence, both in how far they can go from the lander and how long they can survive beyond the lander’s lifetime.
Orbiters and Near side surface assets , which could manage with direct to Earth communication, will benefit from the higher data-rate at lower performance requirements on their own communication modules, due to the proximity of the data-relay spacecraft. Significantly shorter distances to communicate over (4,000-8,000 km to Lunar Pathfinder vs. ~400,000 km for direct to earth or ~70,000 km for the Lunar Gateway), allow for the link budgets to be closed with low gain antennas or low power levels, representing a significant saving to for the Lunar asset.
The ambition for navigation services is to offer a cost-effective and high performance way for lunar assets to acquire localisation data, whatever their position on or around the Moon.
Following a successful phase of feasibility study and ground segment refurbishment, led in collaboration with Goonhilly Earth Station (GES), the approach to implementation is in 2 main phases:
Phase 1 – Lunar Pathfinder
A single spacecraft in lunar orbit, offering communication services to any lunar asset (surface or orbiter). Due to launch and enter operation in 2023, the spacecraft will be fully operational in 2023, for a duration of 8 years of service.
Phase 2 – Lunar Comms and Nav Constellation
Still at the study stage today, the ambition is to launch a constellation of several spacecraft capable of offering an enhanced communication service as well as navigation services.
The service offer: a simple, cost effective, mission enabling solution for all lunar assets
Commercial and institutional Lunar landers, rovers, surface impactors and orbiters will be able to sign up to use the lunar communications services provided by Pathfinder from 2023 onwards, and then from the future constellation, either for primary mission operations, to provide additional capacity, or as a back-up service. Navigation services will be made available as part of the constellation offer.
For prospecting, exploring, and ultimately utilising the far side and poles of the Moon, a communications relay service is a mission enabler, providing the vital bridge between Earth and the lunar surface for lunar landers and rovers. Exploration of the far side of the Moon, particularly the South Pole Aitkin Basin, is a key area for future robotic and human exploration due to its chemical and mineral composition. . The stable elliptical orbit of Pathfinder and the future constellation will allow for long duration visibility of the Southern Lunar Hemisphere each day, with maximum opportunities for the transmission and reception of data between Earth and the lunar surface.
Contact us for more information on our Lunar Mission services: firstname.lastname@example.org