March 29, 1998
The European Space Agency has dropped plans to send a pair of unmanned spacecraft to explore the Moon early next decade, just a few weeks after publically announcing the proposal.
At a meeting of ESA member nations March 26, the Euromoon 2000 program was dropped. ESA director-general Antonio Rodota said the "financial risks inherent in the mission" were too great for the member nations to shoulder.
The Euromoon 2000 mission would have featured a small orbiter, LunarSat, launched in the year 2000 as a secondary payload on an Ariane 5 booster. The spacecraft would have mapped the area where, the following year, the Euromoon Lander would have set down.
ESA planned to target the lander for the south polar regions of the Moon, where deposits of ice crystals are believed to exist in permanently-shadowed patches of regolith. The project had been under study for 10 months when ESA announced its existence on March 6, one day after Lunar Prospector scientists reported evidence of water ice in the regolith.
ESA had what it termed an "innovative and ambitious implementation plan" which required partnerships with industry and sponsorships to raise some of the funds for the mission. ESA planned to contribute 50 million ECU (US$53 million) of the 200 million ECU (US$212 million) cost of the program. Rodota said the very fast schedule for the mission would require "serious overspending" to keep on track, which would discourage industry investors. General ESA funding problems, which also threaten other science missions like Mars Express, contributed to the decision. No new NASA or ESA missions to the moon are currently funded. Two American companies, LunaCorp and Applied Space Resources, are planning their own missions to the Moon in the next several years using private investments, not government funds.
Paris, 5 March 1998
The first step in this ESA initiated programme is a unique project called 'Euromoon 2000' which is currently being studied by ESA engineers/ scientists and key European Space Industries. The project is intended to celebrate Europe's entry into the New Millennium; and to promote public awareness and interest in science, technology and space exploration.
Euromoon 2000 has an innovative and ambitious implementation plan. This includes a 'partnership with industry' and a financing scheme based on raising part of the mission's budget from sponsorship through a dynamic public relations strategy and marketing programme.
The mission begins in earnest with the small (approx. 100 kg) LunarSat orbiter satellite, to be designed and built by 50 young scientists and engineers from across Europe. Scheduled for launch in 2000 as a secondary payload on a European Ariane 5 rocket, it will then orbit the Moon, mapping the planned landing area in greater detail in preparation of the EuroMoon Lander in 2001. The Lander's 40 kg payload allocation will accommodate amongst others scientific instrumentation for in-situ investigation of the unique site. Elements of specific support to the publicity and fund-raising campaign will also be considered.
The Lander will aim for the 'Peak of Eternal Light' on the rim of the 20 km-diameter, 3 km-deep Shackleton South Pole crater - a site uniquely suited for establishing a future outpost. This location enjoys almost continuous sunlight thus missions can rely on solar power instead of bulky batteries or costly and potentially hazardous nuclear power generation. As a consequence of the undulating South Pole terrain there are also permanently shadowed areas - amongst the coldest in the Solar System resulting in conditions highly favourable for the formation of frozen volatiles (as suggested by the Clementine mission in 1994).
Earlier this year (7th January 1998), NASA launched its Lunar Prospector satellite which is currently performing polar lunar orbits surveying areas of the moon's surface rarely documented in previous missions. The data now being received back from Prospector strongly suggests the presence of the suspected volatiles (water ice?). Understandably the presence of billions-of-years-old frozen water in proximity to Euromoon's planned landing site would provide a tremendous boost for the implementation of the EuroMoon project now in its 10th month of study. The in-situ analysis of such rare substances will provide an invaluable scientific window back in time (the Moon is believed to have been formed over 3.5 billion years ago from elements of the earth's mantel). The water's constituent elements of hydrogen and oxygen have also the possibility of offering an essentially free supply of rocket propellant and oxygen for exploitation during future activities. EuroMoon is the only mission being studied that can investigate this ice in-situ, while the US satellite will remain in a orbit.
The mission is particularly challenging because of the required landing precision (within 100 m2) in terrain varying between +6 km and -5 km in altitude. Achieving the required pinpoint touchdown capability would allow the future exploitation of other interesting sites. One such site is the 6 km-high Malapert Mountain, 120 km from the pole from which the Earth can always be seen thus allowing continuous communications with the home planet for any future outpost in the region. The 'Peak of Eternal Light' (described above) is in direct view of Malapert, the twin peaks offer the tantalising possibility of both of uninterrupted power and communications.
Euromoon can be seen as be the initial step in founding the first extraterrestrial outpost, founding the infrastructure for a 'robotic village' controlled by a 'virtual community' of Earth-based operators using telescience. This would indeed mark the beginning of an expansion of the human domain beyond Earth without the risk or cost of manned space travel. This concept also forms an essential element of the fund-raising campaign which will create an exciting media opportunity involving all levels of society.
Mission costs will be minimized by using existing hardware and a rapid schedule. Industrial partners would share risk and responsibility of realising the mission by forming the EuroMoon Company. A new marketing and advertising consortium has been formed with the specific task of raising funds through diverse commercial activities.
EuroMoon 2000 was chosen by ESA's Long-term Space Policy Committee as the candidate for the Millennium Celebration and presented to the Agency's Council in December 1997. A progress report, as well as a programme proposal will be presented to the March Council and a final decision is expected in June next.
May 8, 1997
Wubbo Ockels has prepared a proposal called EuroMoon 2000, which is described in ESA publication BR-122, published by the ESA Publications Division, c/o ESTEC, 2200 AG Noordwijk, The Netherlands. Some extracts from the proposal abstract follow:
EuroMoon 2000 is a lunar initiative by ESA to mark the progression of Europe's space activities into the New Millenium. It is a first step in a novel programme that could eventually lead to the construction of an international manned outpost on the Moon. This first step will place a lander at the most promising site for such an outpost, namely a continuously sunlit site on the rim of the lunar South Pole crater. From here, the Moon's largest crater, the Aitken Basin, can be explored, and any frozen volatiles present (water?) investigated by robotic devices supported by the lander as their operational base.
The lander will also place three or four participants in a "Millenium Challenge" on the crater's rim, with a race to the Moon's South Pole, which lies 3000m deep and in permanent darkness within the confines of the crater, as the primary goal. The winner will be entitled to "name" the as yet unexplored and unnamed lunar south pole as the future human outpost.
EuroMoon 2000 is a highly visible mission designed to attract the interest of school children, more mature students and the public at large. The estimated cost of the mission is just one Euro (ECU) per European, but it nevertheless gives Europe a major chance of being a significant partner in the establishment of the first extraterrestrial human outpost, on the Moon.
There is also a novel partnering approach which is described in an insert to the publication, in which important members of the European aerospace industry have agreed to commit to deliver their contributions to the mission in return for a share in the short-term and long-term commercial benefits of the mission. Funds will be raised for the mission in part based on commercial benefits and products, as well as advertising opportunities.