The European Space Agency (ESA) has signed a contract with rocket maker ArianeGroup with a view to assessing the possibility of reaching the Moon before 2025. It would be a first for Europe, which is looking to challenge the USA and China and underline its space credentials.
Following in the footsteps of the USA and China, Europe has announced its intention to go to the Moon. The European Space Agency (ESA) has asked rocket maker ArianeGroup to conduct a study assessing the feasibility of landing there before 2025, which would be a first for Europe, whose ultimate objective could involve establishing an independent human presence on the Moon.
“I am convinced that the conquest of space is essential for the future of humanity in general, and Europe must play its part in that,” said ArianeGroup’s newly appointed CEO André-Hubert Roussel. “ESA is looking to land there and perhaps create an outpost for future exploration.”
A first for Europe
The aim of the mission agreed on by ESA and ArianeGroup, which would involve going to the Moon before 2025, is to mine regolith, which, as a press release issued by the company stated, is “an ore from which it is possible to extract water and oxygen, thus enabling an independent human presence on the Moon to be envisaged, capable of producing the fuel needed for more distant exploratory missions”.
Europe is not planning to send people to the Moon just yet. Since Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the Earth’s satellite in 1969, only two countries other than the USA have landed on its surface: Russia and China. Beijing landed a spacecraft on the far and hitherto unexplored side of the Moon in January, while India and Israel are also in the race and are working with other countries on specific projects.
An ambitious plan
Often regarded as reluctant player in the space game, Europe has revealed the extent of its ambitions with this announcement, while also making clear its intention to retain access to space and to contribute to the advance of science. It was with those goals in mind that ESA chief Jan Woerner proposed in 2015 that the International Space Station (ISS), which orbits the Earth, be replaced by a permanent lunar village.
The study entrusted to ArianeGroup “is part of ESA’s comprehensive plan to make Europe a partner in global exploration in the next decade,” as David Parker, Director of Human and Robotic Exploration at ESA, explained. “The use of space resources could be a key to sustainable lunar exploration,” he added.
Ariane 6 set for lift-off in 2020
The Moon is also rich in helium-3 isotopes, which are rare on Earth and could be used to produce safer nuclear energy. The main aim of researchers, however, is to make use of the water trapped in the Moon’s polar ice and extract and mix hydrogen and oxygen to power rocket engines.
The mission could involve the use of Europe’s new Ariane 6 rocket, which is scheduled to perform its first flight in 2020 and will be phased in to replace Ariane 5 by 2023.
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