UK firm wins contract for communications satellite that covers far side of the Moon
Image credit: Dreamstime
The European Space Agency has confirmed that its Lunar Pathfinder satellite, which will provide communications services around the Moon, will be built by the UK-based firm Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL).
The Lunar Pathfinder satellite is set to launch in 2024 with a particular emphasis on covering the far side of the Moon.
For prospecting, exploring, and ultimately using the far side of the Moon, Lunar Pathfinder’s communications relay service will provide a vital communications bridge between Earth and the lunar surface.
Exploring the far side of the Moon, particularly the South Pole Aitkin Basin, is a key area for future robotic and human exploration due to its chemical and mineral composition. The far side and polar regions of the Moon are a particular area of interest to space agencies as a potential source of resources for water, fuel and oxygen.
The stable elliptical orbit of Lunar Pathfinder will allow for long duration visibility of the Southern Lunar Hemisphere each day, with maximum opportunities for the transmission and reception of data between Earth and the lunar surface.
It is ESA’s first step towards its ambition to create a network of communications and data relay satellites for the Moon.
It will be the first dedicated lunar communications relay spacecraft when it launches.
The deal follows a bid from the UK Space Agency in 2019 to provide key communications services between the Lunar Orbital Platform – a small space station that is planned to orbit the Moon, and scientists back on Earth. The leading bid was made on behalf of SSTL, which is presently wholly owned by Airbus Defence and Space.
“Exploration is about discovery and returning knowledge to Earth, so in the new era of lunar exploration we require a robust and fast communications service,” ESA’s director of human and robotic exploration, David Parker said.
“SSTL’s Lunar Pathfinder service will be available to all, enabling lower-cost lunar science, technology demonstration and commercial exploration. As a leader in lunar exploration, ESA plans to use its services extensively.”
SSTL’s Phil Brownnett said: “We have been collaborating with ESA since 2018 to scope Lunar Pathfinder for the commercial market, and we look forward to realising our ambition to provide cost-effective services and navigation data for users all over the world.”
The Lunar Pathfinder mission also hosts two separate ESA experiments, the first testing the possibility of using existing navigation satellites for positioning on the Moon and the second a space weather monitor to understand radiation levels around the Moon – important for human explorers.
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