This is an evolving list of relevant missions, technology projects, and studies. The content on this page is based on initial input provided by ISECG space agencies, but more submission of relevant material from the public and private sector is welcomed.
The Moon is the next destination for human exploration after Low Earth Orbit and is a frontier which will be opened in the coming decades. Accessing and utilising the surface of the Moon is a priority for ESA and the Agency is working to gain accessed the surface, exploit this access and establish European capabilities and roles for participation in future exploration missions. The first opportunity for ESA to access the Moon’s surface will be through contributions to the Russia Luna missions: Luna-25 lander, Luna-26 orbiter and Luna-27 lander.ESA will provide contributions to these missions in the areas of precision landing, hazard avoidance, communications, drilling, sampling, sample analysis and ground support. All of these contributions prepare ESA for mission element contributions to later international missions including Lunar Polar Sample Return and eventually to human lunar surface missions.
The Package for Resource Observation and in-Situ Prospecting for Exploration, Commercial exploitation and Transportation (PROSPECT) is being development by ESA for flight on the Russian Luna-27 mission planned for 2020.
PROSPECT is a drilling, sampling and sample analysis end to end chain that will support the identification of potential resources, and assess the utilization potential of those resources. PROSPECT will also perform investigations into resource extraction methodologies that maybe applied at larger scales in the future and provide data with important implications for fundamental scientific investigations on the Moon.
The package will drill and extract samples from depths of up to 2m beneath the surface. In the Polar Regions these samples may contain significant quantities of water ice and other volatiles, which are of high scientific interest, but also introduce a significant challenge for drilling and sampling by introducing uncertainties on the material properties and requirements for sample preservation. Images and infrared spectra will also be recorded in order to support the operations and to measure mineralogy and water content in the excavated soils.
Once delivered to ovens the package will extract water, oxygen and other chemicals of interest in the context of resources. The package is being defined to target water ice which is present in the Polar Regions as well as chemisorbed and solar wind implanted volatiles present at all locations on the Moon. These chemicals can be extracted through heating alone and through the introduction of reagents to the samples. Once extracted the chemistry of interest shall be identified and their abundances determined. Finally comprehensive measurements of the isotopes of elements of interest will be made with reference to standards, such that they can be compared to measurements made in terrestrial laboratories. These isotopic measurements can be used to determine the origins and emplacement processes of the volatiles of interest.
Landing site selection:
For lunar polar missions, landing sites must be selected in terms of several requirements, such as sunlight condition, direct-to-Earth (DTE) communication capability and terrain conditions. Using terrain data obtained by Terrain Camera (TC) on KAGUYA (SELENE) and Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) on Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), polar region landing site analysis is ongoing. In addition, JAXA carried out multi-objective optimization for selecting landing sites that satisfy four objectives: the shortness of continuous nights, the length of DTE communicable time, the terrain inclination and the ice distribution.
Concept study of polar lander:
JAXA supports internationally-coordinated missions to understand resource potential of lunar polar volatiles. JAXA had been studied the lunar lander SELENE-2 as a follow-on mission of the lunar orbiter Kaguya (SELENE). In addition, from the viewpoint of exploring for lunar volatiles, a new landing mission that is optimized for landing in a lunar polar region has also been studied. Recently, JAXA jointly works with NASA and its partners to defining a lunar lander concept for the Resource Prospector Mission.
- KARI’s lunar volatile research includes development of the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO) and a Mid-Wavelength Infra-Red (MWIR) spectrometer that can investigate direct evidence of lunar water-ice.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has several lunar-oriented activities in progress.
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
NASA is currently operating the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter(LRO) mission near the Moon. Launched in 2009, LRO’s broad array of scientific instruments have been used to address strategic knowledge gaps related to the unique environment at the lunar poles. Imagery, laser altimetry, radar, thermal measurements, and UV and neutron spectroscopy have all been used to better understand the polar regions and the presence of water ice and other polar volatiles.
NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) division is pioneering innovative approaches and public-private partnerships to rapidly develop prototype systems, advance key capabilities, and validate operational concepts for future human missions beyond Earth orbit. One of AES’s robotic precursor activities is called Resource Prospector, a mission concept in pre-formulation that would involve sending a robotic rover to one of the polar regions on the Moon. Planned for launch early in the 2020s, the rover will traverse the lunar surface, using prospecting tools to search for sub-surface water, hydrogen and other volatiles. When an appropriate location is found, a drill will extract samples of the lunar regolith from as deep as one meter below the surface. The sample will be heated in an oven to determine the type and quantity of elements and compounds such as hydrogen, nitrogen, helium, methane, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide – and most importantly, water!
NASA will fly one scientific instrument on the Korea Aerospace Research Institute’s (KARI) first lunar exploration mission, the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO). The instrument, known as ShadowCam, will map the reflectance within the permanently shadowed regions at the Moon’s poles to search for volatiles, including frost or ice deposits. The instrument’s optical camera is based on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Narrow Angle Camera, but is 800 times more sensitive, allowing it to obtain high-resolution, high signal-to-noise imaging of the moon’s permanently shadowed regions.
NASA has selected thirteen CubeSats to fly on the first launch (Exploration Mission 1, EM-1) of NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS), currently scheduled for launch in 2019. Three of these CubeSat missions will be investigating lunar polar volatiles in three different ways.
Lunar Polar Hydrogen Mapper (LunaH-Map)
The Lunar Polar Hydrogen Mapper, or LunaH-Map for short, is under development at Arizona State University. The 6U CubeSat will enter a polar orbit around the Moon with a low-altitude (5-12 km) perilune centered on the lunar South Pole. A 60-day science mission, consisting of 141 science orbits, is planned. LunaH-Map carries two neutron spectrometers that will produce maps of near-surface hydrogen (H). LunaH-Map will map H within permanently shadowed craters to determine its spatial distribution, map H distributions with depth (< 1 meter), and map the distribution of H in other permanently shadowed regions throughout the South Pole.
The Lunar Flashlight mission is led by a team from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Goddard Space Flight Center. The 6U CubeSat will maneuver to its elliptical lunar polar orbit with a perilune of 20 km, and use its near infrared lasers to shine light into shaded polar regions, while the on-board near infrared spectrometer measures surface reflection and composition.
The Lunar IceCube mission is led by Morehead State University, and the team has significant involvement from scientists and engineers at the Goddard Space Flight Center, and the Massachusetts-based Busek Company. The 6U CubeSat will enter into a highly inclined elliptical orbit around the Moon after a three-month, low-thrust trajectory. The only miniaturized science instrument is the Broadband Infrared Compact High Resolution Explorer Spectrometer (BIRCHES), with the objective of prospecting for water in ice, liquid, and vapor forms as a function of time of day, latitude, and regolith age and composition. The mission is planned to last six months in lunar orbit.