The European Space Agency (ESA) has its sights set on the moon, agreeing partnerships with several private companies to prepare a mission to mine the satellite for oxygen and water.
If successful, the operation to mine the moon’s ore could be key in establishing a continuous manned presence on the moon, not to mention creating a fueling stopover point for long-distance missions to Mars.
China has led the way in recent years with regards lunar exploration, most recently becoming the first nation on Earth to successfully grow biological lifeforms on the lunar surface, but the ESA is now planning a 100 percent European mission to the moon.
ArianeGroup has been given a one-year contract to prepare a feasibility study for mining on the moon, while German startup PTScientists, former competitors in Google’s now-defunct Lunar X Prize contest, will provide a moon lander for the mission if it gains final approval.
Should the project plow ahead after the feasibility check, an Ariane 64 rocket is lined up as the launch vehicle, complete with four strap-on boosters and boasting a payload capacity of up to 8.5 metric tons. Ground control facilities and communications tech for that mission, planned to take place before 2025, will be carried out by Belgium’s Space Applications Services.
The initial contract for the feasibility study is worth several hundred thousand euros and the ESA is expected to ask European ministers for additional funding once the study concludes in November. Meanwhile, PTScientists are hoping to launch a lander mission to the Taurus-Littrow region of the moon, next to the Apollo 17 landing site, carrying two rovers by late 2019 or early 2020.
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