The ESA is now seeking proposals for a Lunar Lander that would land on the south polar region of the Moon where possible deposits of water ice, heavily cratered terrain and long periods of sunlight make it ripe for explorers and scientists, the agency stated.
The space agency said several European space companies have already assessed the various mission options and designs. The next step is 'Phase-B1', which will mature the mission and spacecraft design and examine in detail the demands of landing and working at specific southern lunar sites.
This 18-month phase will begin this summer, taking the Lunar Lander from a design concept to hardware reality. The goal is for launch by the end of this decade, the ESA stated.
The ESA said that the lander has two main goals:
The agency last year worked with NASA to define technologies that would let humans one day return to the Moon. At the time the agencies concluded such explorations needed:
NASA mind you doesn't preclude its own robotic mission to the moon. In his broad outline of NASA's budget plan, the space agency's Charles Bolden recently testified that that NASA wants to look at more sustainable and advanced capabilities that will allow Americans to explore the Moon, Mars and other destinations. "This effort will include a flagship demonstration program, with international partners, commercial and other government entities, to demonstrate critical technologies, such as in-orbit propellant transfer and storage, inflatable modules, automated/autonomous rendezvous and docking, closed-loop life support systems, and other next- generation capabilities....Robotic precursor missions to multiple destinations in the solar system in support of future human exploration, including missions to the Moon, Mars and its moons," Bolden stated.
What technologies end up being developed is anyone's guess.
NASA is working with the ESA on all manner of robotic orbiters, landers and exploration devices for a future trip to Mars.
NASA and the ESA recently agreed to consider the establishment of a new joint initiative to define and implement their scientific, programmatic, and technological goals for the exploration of Mars.
The program would focus on several launch opportunities with landers and orbiters conducting astrobiological, geological, geophysical, climatological, and other high-priority investigations and aiming at returning samples from Mars in the mid-2020s.
The envisioned program includes the provision that by 2016, ESA will build what it calls an Entry, Descent, and semi-soft Landing System (EDLS) technology demonstrator and a science/relay orbiter. In 2018, the ESA would also deliver its ExoMars rover equipped with drilling capability. NASA's contribution in 2016 includes a trace gas mapping and imaging scientific payload for the orbiter and the launch and, in 2018 a rover, the EDLS, and rockets for the launch.
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