Europe Wants Ideas for Cave-Spelunking Moon Robots. Here's How You Can Help!

The European Space Agency is requesting ideas for ways to explore lunar caves with robotic missions.
The European Space Agency is requesting ideas for ways to explore lunar caves with robotic missions. (Image credit: ESA)

As NASA makes a big push to land humans on the moon's surface by 2024, the European Space Agency (ESA) wants to learn more about the lunar caves that lie beneath.

ESA has released a call for proposals asking for creative ways to design a robotic mission that would explore these caves, which could be related to old underground lava tubes that dried up over the eons and collapsed. The campaign is available on ESA's Open Space Innovation Platform, and submissions are due by Sept. 27.

"Exploring and mapping these tubes could provide new information about the moon's geology, but they could also be an interesting option as long-term shelter for future human visitors to the moon," Franceso Sauro, director of ESA's Pangaea planetary geology astronaut training, said in a statement. "They would shield astronauts from cosmic radiation and micrometeorites and possibly provide access to icy water and other resources trapped underground."

Related: Lunar Lava Tubes Might Make Underground Moon Cities Possible 

The missions have several scientific objectives associated with them, ESA explained. Future explorers would not only need to access, navigate and map the caves, but may use other resources. Some possible ideas include establishing communications between the cave and "the outside world," ESA said, while others involve instruments that could take measurements of the environment of the cave.

"Mission concepts may be based on a single rover or a distributed system of satellite, robotic or rover systems that operate together," Loredana Bessone, who is leading the hunt for ideas as head of ESA's analog field testing and exploration training, said in a statement. "Either way, we are looking for systems that would land on the lunar surface, identify and access a cave and contribute to the scientific exploration of the moon."

The statement did not say how (if at all) this would relate to NASA's exploration plans to land humans on the surface of the moon in 2024, but NASA has noted that it wants to land on the moon to establish a permanent human presence there. Lunar caves are a possible option to protect astronauts from long-term radiation on the surface, although our only knowledge of them so far comes from pictures of pits spotted from orbit.

Editors Note: This article was updated to reflect that the deadline for submissions is Sept. 27, not Oct. 31.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: