A new era of Moon exploration is set to begin

UK Space Agency bids to develop comms system for future Moon base

Image credit: Nasa

The UK Space Agency is bidding to provide key communications services between the Lunar Orbital Platform - Gateway, which is a proposed space station orbiting the Moon, and scientists back on Earth.

The Press Association (PA) reports that SSTL, a manufacturer of small satellites based in Guilford will lead the bid which is being supported by the UK Space Agency.

The system will allow astronauts and rovers on the Moon to more easily communicate with the Gateway and Earth.

The Gateway is intended as a future outpost to serve as a laboratory and short-term accommodation post for astronauts exploring the Moon.

While the project is led by Nasa, the Gateway is meant to be developed, serviced, and used in collaboration with commercial and international partners.

First proposed in 2012, the facility is expected to be built some time in the 2020s and will be critical for future missions designed to expand a human presence to the Moon, Mars, and deeper into the Solar System.

The UK Space Agency’s head of space exploration Sue Horne said it was also bidding for the refuelling features of the joint effort.

“Europe - hopefully, if we get sufficient subscriptions - will be building the habitation module and the service module,” she told the PA news agency.

“In the UK, we would like to do the communications system and the refuelling element but there will be a lot of competition for the refuelling element.

“I think on the refuelling element, it’s probably 50/50, we have a much better chance of getting the communications – we have a strong communications industry.

“Looking to the future Moon programme, there’s a lot more commercial activity and there is a UK company that is planning to develop a commercial communications service around the Moon, because there is India, Israel, the US and China all sending missions, there is a demand for communications services, so there is a company, SSTL, who are looking to put that service in place and the UK Space Agency is helping them in that endeavour.”

In November, the next round of funding decisions will be determined by the European Space Agency (ESA), of which the UK is a member.

Horne said Italy was the biggest possible competitor for the UK on the communications side, while the French and Germans were challengers for refuelling.

“There’s a lot of technology we have to develop and the best place to test it out is on the Moon,” she continued.

“It’s nearer, and therefore cheaper and easier to test it out on the Moon, so we need to use the Moon as a test bed to enable us to do the more distant places like Mars.”

But science historian James Burke, who led the original programme covering the 1969 Moon landing with Sir Patrick Moore, has said that going back to the Moon is a waste of money.

He said he does not believe there is much political desire to put humans on the lunar surface due to the high costs, but indicated that the Chinese are the ones to watch for further space exploration.

“(Donald) Trump wants to go back to the Moon, Nasa talks about going to Mars, I frankly think that there is no political appetite for doing either of them in America, either the effort or the money and the expenditure,” Burke told PA.

“Where there is, or rather where public opinion doesn’t matter, and where there’s loads of money, is China.

“My bet will be we’ll see a Chinese landing on Mars within the next 10 years.”

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