New Robot Moon Landing Idea Studied in Europe
Artist's conception of ESA's robotic lunar lander.
Credit: ESA

The aerospace company Astrium Space Transportation will complete mission design work on a robotic lunar lander under an 18-month contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) valued at 6.5 million euros ($8.5 million), Astrium officials announced Sept. 16.

The design results, to include cost estimates for a rover as well as the lander, will be part of a package of proposals the 18-nation ESA expects to present to its member governments at a meeting scheduled for the first half of 2012. [Video: Europe's New Robot Moon Lander]

Astrium will use its experience in rendezvous and docking technologies gained as prime contractor for Europe's Automated Transfer Vehicle  an unmanned cargo freighter that has made the first of several planned visits to the international space station.

ESA governments are also likely to be asked to decide in 2012 whether the ATV capsules, which are currently destroyed after each mission to the station, should be enhanced to permit atmospheric re-entry for cargo return.

"It would not be possible to envisage landing an automated vehicle on the moon without" the ATV experience, Michael Menking, Astrium senior vice president for orbital systems and space exploration, said in a Sept. 16 statement.

For the lunar mission, Astrium will design a lander that would touch down near the moon's south pole. The rover would then begin exploring the moon's surface. The mission is expected to last between six and eight months, Astrium officials said.

"With a strong and successful presence in [low-Earth-orbit], the moon is the next natural goal on our common path to further destinations," saidSimonetta di Pippo, ESA director for human spaceflight.

This article was provided by Space News, dedicated to covering all aspects of the space industry.