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Europe keen to demonstrate Moon ambitions

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Published: 09:14, 22 November 2019   Update: 15:18, 26 July 2020
Europe keen to demonstrate Moon ambitions

The European Space Agency (Esa) will show its commitment to the new wave of lunar exploration when member-state research ministers meet in Seville, Spain, next week.

The politicians are expected to commit hundreds of millions of euros to fund technologies that will support the US-led Artemis project to return humans to the Moon.

Included will be the money to complete two propulsion-cum-service modules that are needed to push the Americans' Orion crew capsules through space.

These spacecraft, which will take part in the Nasa missions known as Artemis 3 and 4, are scheduled to fly from 2024 onwards.

They will witness the first astronaut sorties to the lunar surface in nearly 50 years.

Also set to be nodded through by ministers at the Seville Council is development work on the international lunar space station, known as Gateway.

Europe wants to contribute a habitation module (iHab) and a second multi-purpose unit that would enable access, refuelling, and high-data-rate communications to the Moon's surface.

Dubbed Esprit, this unit would come with big windows through which the Gateway's live-aboard astronauts could monitor robotic operations on the exterior of the station but also look down on the Moon and back to Earth.

The menu before research ministers at their Seville Council (PDF) doesn't end there. Esa officials also envisage a large autonomous freighter that could deliver supplies to astronauts working on the lunar surface.

It wouldn't fly until later in the next decade, but engineers need to begin the design work now.
"We want to do a robotic Moon mission that is part of the human exploration," explained Dr David Parker, who directs the agency's human and robotic exploration programmes.

"Basically, we'd like to be able to send a cargo vehicle to the Moon - to take the food, the rovers; whatever you need for long-term sustained exploration on the surface. And that vehicle could also do science by bringing rock and soil samples back up to the Gateway," he told BBC News.

Dr Parker will be laying a near-€2bn request before ministers next week - a step up from the €1.5bn approved at the last major Council in Lucerne in 2016. And while ambitions at the Moon currently catch the eye, Europe has also to maintain its infrastructure just above the Earth.

Its Columbus science lab, which has been a part of the International Space Station (ISS) for almost 11 years, is going through a modernisation programme. Esa will be updating the lab's ground support and attempting to bring in new players to use the facility.

Dr Parker, a former chief executive at the UK Space Agency, has within his remit robotic exploration at Mars.

This includes the Rosalind Franklin rover, which is set to launch to the Red Planet next July, assuming the troublesome parachutes on its descent-and-landing system can be made ready in time. The chutes are in the midst of a make-or-break test programme.

Source: BBC





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