November 24, 2008

UK Develops Proposal To Send Spacecraft To The Moon

A proposal was made by the UK's space funding body to send a British spacecraft to the Moon.

Proponents say that if the MoonLite project passes the "Phase A" study, the spacecraft would be set to launch by 2014.

NASA described the UK's MoonLite proposal plan as "inspirational" and has committed to backing the endeavor.

The study will investigate whether the MoonLite mission is technically feasible and whether it will achieve its scientific objectives.

A UK-led mission to the Moon would be a very significant national achievement, experts said, adding that such a proposal should not be taken lightly.

A team led by the University College London's Mullard Space Sciences Laboratory (MSSL) in Surrey first proposed MoonLite two years ago.

The mission would send a small spacecraft into lunar orbit and fire four missiles toward various points into the Moon's surface to literally scratch below its exterior.

The Penetrator Consortium, an affiliation of industry and academia led by MSSL, would oversee the Phase A study.

The missiles, or "penetrators," would be packed full of scientific instruments to study aspects of lunar geology, such as whether there are moonquakes. They would also explore new ways of sending signals back from the Moon.

Each penetrator would then send scientific data back to its mother ship in orbit, potentially becoming the basis of a lunar communications network.

The penetrators were packed with instruments and fired during tests at a Ministry of Defense test site earlier this year. The researchers said they performed well during trial runs.

The MoonLite Phase A study would examine three aspects to the total mission concept: it would look into the technology of the penetrators themselves and their scientific instruments while also looking at the design of the spacecraft to ensure that it can carry these four penetrators. It would also examine in detail their descent rockets.

Each of the penetrators require a retro-rocket to kill its orbital velocity after it is detached from the orbiting spacecraft, so that it falls to the lunar surface and orientates itself vertically.

The study would assess whether the concept is technically sound and also look at whether the scientific benefits can be delivered at a reasonable cost.

Pending satisfactory results, a decision would subsequently be taken to fund the mission, meaning it could fly sometime around 2014.


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