ESA has indicated it's interested in mining the Moon by 2025. To help achieve this, the space agency has awarded a one-year contract to ArianeGroup to look into the feasibility of sending a mission to the lunar surface to mine lunar soil or regolith, which could be a source of water and oxygen to support a manned outpost, as well as a source of fuel for deep space missions.
It's been 50 years since the first manned missions reached the Moon and as part of the effort to celebrate this anniversary, ESA wants to look at the possibility of setting up mining operations on the Moon in the very near future.
The new study will be carried out by commercial launch service provider ArianeGroup, which would provide the Ariane 64 – a four-booster version of the Ariane 6 rocket – for the mission. Other partners include Belgian firm Space Application Services, which would provide ground control and communications, and German startup PTScientists, which would build the lunar lander.
Lunar regolith covers almost the entire surface of the Moon and has been formed over the last 4.5 billion years due to a constant barrage of micrometeoroids, and solar and cosmic radiation that broke down the bedrock into a fine, jagged powder. Though extremely dry, the compounds that make up the lunar soil contain water, which would be vital to support any long-term missions or outposts.
Billed as a "100 percent European consortium," the proposed mission would include the means to launch the needed spacecraft, sending them to lunar orbit, executing landings, and establishing communications with Earth or some other control station.
"This first contract – symbolically announced on the day of a lunar eclipse – is a milestone for ArianeGroup, which has for a long time been working on technological proposals for space logistics servicing," says André-Hubert Roussel, CEO of ArianeGroup. "It is also an opportunity to recall the ability of Ariane 64 to carry out Moon missions for its institutional customers, with a payload capacity of up to 8.5 metric tonnes. In this year, marking the fiftieth anniversary of Man's first steps on the Moon, ArianeGroup will thus support all current and future European projects, in line with its mission to guarantee independent, sovereign access to space for Europe."
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