Lunar Lander Will Search For Moon Ice And Water
October 22, 2012

ESA Lunar Lander To Search For Ice On The Moon

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

European researchers are in the process of building an unmanned probe that would travel to the moon, where it would search for subsurface ice on the lunar surface, within the next six years.

The $800 million (£500 million) project, which is detailed in an October 21 article by Telegraph Science Correspondent Richard Gray, is currently being planned by the European Space Agency (ESA) and is on pace to take place sometime in 2018.

The goal is to land on the south pole of the Moon and see if they can find frozen water, which could then be used to help sustain astronauts during future journeys to Earth's lone natural satellite, Gray said.

“We want to see if the resources are there to let astronauts live off the land," Open University research fellow Dr. Simon Sheridan, who is helping design instruments for the proposed spacecraft, told the Telegraph on Sunday. “There is evidence of vast deposits of volatile chemicals like water from orbiting missions, but this will be the first ground-based mission to look in a polar region.”

The craft would be approximately the size of an automobile and would weigh roughly 1,800 pounds, Gray explained. It would be launched from Earth with the assistance of a rocket, and would then detach itself and complete a 12-minute flight onto the lunar surface.

In order to help avoid obstacles, including craters and boulders, it would come equipped with an artificial intelligence system, directing engines and rocket propulsion, he added. Other features included on the Lunar Lander would be instruments to help it bore into the ground, analyze the soil and transmit results back to scientists here on Earth.

"If Lunar Lander is successful, it would open up the prospect of settling on the Moon," Gray said. "Water is heavy and expensive to transport into space, so extracting it from the lunar surface would be a major step towards helping people live on the Moon."

"Experts have long believed that the Moon´s surface was completely arid," he added. "Recent measurements from orbiting spacecraft, however, have suggested that water may exist in the soil, with large deposits at its poles and in the shadows of meteor craters."

ESA Lunar Lander Spacecraft Engineer Richard Fisackerly told Gray that the team intended to focus on specific locations on the moon at first, but hoped one day to be able to expand the project so that they could land a sample return spacecraft next to a second vehicle. He added that they also intend to study the moon's environment, as well as look for traces of oxygen or hydrogen and determine the composition of dust there.

“The primary goal of the mission is to place Europe in a strategic role in the future exploration of the Moon," Bérengère Houdou, the ESA's Lunar Lander project manager, told the Telegraph. “The kind of landing we are trying to do will be much more accurate than what the Russians and Americans tried before“¦ We have been doing some tests on the engines in the past month and had some quite positive results already.”

Earlier this month, research published in the journal Nature Geoscience suggested that water molecules that had been detected in soil samples on the moon may have originated from the sun.

Researchers studied soil samples that had been retrieved during the Apollo missions, and discovered that they contained compounds known as hydroxyls, which are essentially substructures of an H2O molecule, according to Telegraph Science Correspondent Nick Collins.

Following their analysis, the authors said that they believed that the molecules were probably formed on the Moon´s surface by the solar wind – a stream of charged particles that originates from the sun. Their theory is that a reaction between hydrogen ions in the solar wind and loose surface soil on the moon known as regolith was responsible for the formation of the hydroxyls, the AFP news agency reported.