The European Space Agency (ESA) will partner with Russia on a mission to explore the south polar side of the moon, lead ESA scientist James Carpenter told dpa on Sunday.
While the agency has already been coordinating with its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, the two are in the early stages of what Carpenter calls “phase B,” which is the technical development phase.
The mission, entitled Luna-27, is planned for 2020. Its aim is to land on the unexplored south polar region of the moon to determine resource availability, such as the extent of ice and water, and prepare for human missions in the future.
“ESA will provide a precision navigation and hazard avoidance system to ensure a safe precise landing. We will also provide a drill to access samples beneath the surface and a miniaturized chemical laboratory to analyse those samples,” Carpenter said.
“Through these activities we will create new knowledge to support future missions, validate key technologies that we can offer to future international partnerships, build expertise for future missions, build a bilateral cooperation with Russia in exploration and perform fundamental scientific research,” he added.
Since the southern polar craters do not receive sunlight, they have extremely cold temperatures that can reach minus 365 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 185 degrees Celsius).
The United States, India and Japan have previously explored the area around the lunar south pole with probes.
In 2009, NASA announced that it had found water on the moon after a satellite crashed into a crater near the moon’s south pole. Following the discovery, NASA has also started programmes to research mining and extraction on the moon’s surface. Its Resource Prospector Mission is scheduled for 2018.
Now the US will have company. New ESA director Johann Dietrich Woerner, who took his post in July, has said that he is interested in building an outpost on the moon that would facilitate further missions.
Woerner told Nature journal that he wants “to establish an infrastructure on the Moon that has the ability to do first-class fundamental research.
“That can be Moon science, but also cosmology, with a telescope on the far side,” he added. “At the same time, it means having a development there, using Moon soil to produce structures, as a stepping-stone to going beyond.”