Exploration of the Moon is the next step for human spaceflight, building on the experience of the International Space Station, which has seen human spaceflight restricted to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). This transition from LEO to Moon requires the development of new technologies, new capabilities and new knowledge across multiple domains and the progression of international partnerships exemplified through the ISS. The progression to lunar surface will be achieved through a combination of developments in robotic and human spaceflight systems and missions.
In the area of human spaceflight capabilities ESA is continuing the development of the Service Module of NASA’s Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. This will be the vehicle that brings humans beyond LEO in the years to come. In parallel consensus is emerging around the development of an infrastructure for extended human missions in space around the Moon. This element can be an important increment towards an infrastructure enabling sustainable human lunar exploration, and a key part of future surface mission architectures.
In advance of human surface missions robotic missions to the surface provide an opportunity to drive up the technology and system maturities of key elements for the future, to generate relevant operational experience, to build partnerships and to generate knowledge.
To this end ESA is investing in robotic precursor missions. The first mission in this campaign is the Russian Luna-25 lander mission in 2018. ESA will provide an imaging system for this mission as a precursor to a complete precision landing and hazard avoidance system, PILOT, which will be deployed on the Luna-27 lander mission in 2021. The Precise Intelligent Landing using On-board Technology system, PILOT, is a generic exploration product, which will be available as a European contribution to future missions to enable pin-point landing.
The Russian Luna-27 mission also includes the Package for Resource Observation and in-Situ Prospecting for Exploration Commercial exploitation and Transportation, PROSPECT. This system will be used to investigate the presence, provenance and viability of lunar resources at the Luna-27 landing site. This mission also provides the basis for future deployments of PROSPECT as a system for comprehensive resource evaluation across the lunar surface. PROSPECT emphasises cold trapped polar volatiles but is intended to provide a broader investigatory capability, which could be deployed more broadly across the lunar surface.
International partnerships have been and continue to be an essential element in ESA’s approach to exploration. This is enabling for missions as it allows the pooling of resources and capabilities. The ability to work and operate together in space also represents one of the key benefits delivered by exploration; as we consistently demonstrate that diverse countries and cultures can work together to achieve the extraordinary.
A new partnership model with the private sector is also being explored. In this case ESA is investigating how it can support private sector driven exploration initiatives in such a way that the initiatives are enabled and ESA generates benefits for its stakeholders and advances its own exploration ambitions.