ESA and Roscosmos will be comrades in space for moon mission

19 Oct 2015

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin's footprint on the moon on the Apollo 11 mission. Image via NASA

The European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian space agency (Roscosmos) are to join forces, despite political tensions, to begin preparations for a joint moon mission to examine the possibility of establishing a lunar base.

The moon mission, dubbed Luna 27, is expected to launch in five years’ time to send a spacecraft to the lunar surface in order to examine whether the right resources exist to allow a permanent colony to be set up  on the moon.

According to the BBC, the mission will be led by Roscosmos as part of its efforts to revive a lost Soviet plan to do the very same thing during the heyday of the Cold War, but now with a greater sense of cooperation.

A series of potential sites for a habitable lunar base has been located on the far side of the moon and, with missions like Luna 27, a series of robotic probes will be sent to analyse the lunar surface for water and the necessary material for rocket fuel.

The far side of the moon has not been subjected to the same heat and radiation as the rest of the moon has, giving hope for the existence of these minerals.

‘We have to get to the moon’

There will also be considerable interest from both space agencies for determining the abundance of the isotope Helium-3, which has been heralded as one of the most interesting potential nuclear fuel sources in the coming years and was the basis for the film Moon.

It is planned that Roscosmos will be providing the means for the two space agencies to get there, but the ESA will be looking to bring its state-of-the-art tech to do much of the scientific work.

One of the things the ESA plans to bring to the table will be its Pilot landing system to help Luna 27 land safely by using its onboard systems to determine if the landing site is safe and changing accordingly.

The ESA is also expected to provide a new drill that would be capable of drilling as deep as 2m into the lunar surface, as well as a miniaturised lab called ProSPA, similar to the one used on the Philae lander on Comet 67p.

Speaking of the mission’s importance, Prof Igor Mitrofanov of the Space Research Institute of Moscow, said: “We have to go to the moon. The 21st century will be the century when it will be the permanent outpost of human civilisation, and our country has to participate in this process.”

He continued: “It will be for astronomical observation, for the utilisation of minerals and other lunar resources and to create an outpost that can be visited by cosmonauts working together as a test bed for their future flight to Mars.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic