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.