Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 119

Supplementary evidence from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)

  MoonLITE stands for Moon Lightweight Interior and Telecommunications Experiment. It has multiple scientific, exploration and technological goals.

  The scientific goal would be to investigate the unknown interior structure (core/mantle/crust) of the Moon through deploying a network of seismometers and heat-flow sensors. The exploration goal would be to act as a pathfinder for high data rate communications between the Moon's surface, lunar orbit and the Earth. Such capability will be needed for future robotic and human exploration for example in support of the US human exploration of the Moon. If such services can be commercialised, surplus capacity beyond that needed by governments could be sold to media and entertainment. An approach analogous to Paradigm/Skynet 5 is foreseen. The technological goals of MoonLITE are two-fold: first, to extend the UK's lead in small satellite technology and thus our industry's position in the global market; and second, to test penetrators which are an attractive means of deploying miniaturised science instruments on Mars, Europa, Mercury and other distant destinations.

  MoonRaker is a concept for a small soft lander. Technologically, it would be the first European controlled soft-lander and thus demonstrate capability needed for exploring all planetary destinations. Two sub-versions have been studied, with differing scientific goals. In both cases, the instrumentation is derived from that developed for the Beagle 2 Mars lander.

  The first version would land on the lunar near-side allowing direct communication to the Earth. It would test a novel technique of in-situ age-dating of lunar rocks. This is important because our knowledge of the age of planetary surfaces throughout the solar system is derived from the limited samples brought back from the Moon between 1969 and 1972. There are gaps and uncertainties in our existing knowledge and it will be many years before samples can be returned from distant planetary locations: MoonRaker would test a robotic age dating technique to overcome this problem.

  The second version would be combined with an orbiter such as that for MoonLITE to provide telecommunications relay. The lander would descend to a polar location to undertake geochemistry and search for polar volatiles (eg water, organic material) that may be caught in cold traps in permanently shadowed craters. Some orbiter data suggests their presence, perhaps relics of crashed comets from the early solar system. Beyond the scientific interest, the possible exploitation of such in-situ resources could support human outposts at the Moon.

  Pre-phase A study of both missions was funded by PPARC (now STFC) and completed in 2006. Some preliminary technology work on the penetrator technology for MoonLITE is now underway in industry and academia. BNSC/STFC is exploring the way forward for the mission concepts through several routes.

  We have discussed the study results with NASA who have recognised that they are aligned with goals within the US exploration planning. At present, NASA does not have all of the financial resources to undertake its previously planned robotic exploration of the Moon in the period 2010-15, so it is interested in collaboration. This led to the joint NASA/BNSC agreement. The next step is to set up a joint study team to define a common set of objectives and design solutions. This will probbaly take the next six to 12 months. Variants of both mission concepts have also been proposed into the recent ESA open calls for new mission concepts in the Cosmic Vision science programme and in the Aurora exploration programme. Evaluations are awaited. There have also been a number of informal approaches to the UK from individual European and non-European countries regarding possible collaboration on these mission concepts.

  The eventual outcome of these discussions will be conditioned by the outcome of the current Spending Review and will be tensioned by STFC against other priorities.

May 2007

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