Leonardo-Finmeccanica has signed a contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) to develop a robotic drill and suite of scientific instruments that will analyse the Moon’s subsoil.
Over the next two years, Leonardo will design, construct and test the PROSPECT prototype, which is intended for integration onto a Luna-Resurs spacecraft.
Luna-Resurs – a partnership between ESA and Russian space agency Roscosmos with support from the Italian and UK Space Agencies – is expected to land a probe weighing approximately one tonne on the Moon in 2021, to search for water and raw materials that might be used for building a future permanent base.
PROSPECT – Package for Resource Observation, in-Situ analysis and Prospecting for Exploration Commercial exploitation and Transportation – is a laboratory consisting of the robotic drill and scientific instruments. Leonardo will develop PROSPECT in collaboration with the Open University.
In use, the system will drill down into the Moon’s soil to depths of up to two metres, taking material samples and distributing them to the scientific instruments aboard the probe for analysis. It will be tested by Leonardo in an environment that mimics the environment of the Moon’s South Pole where it will operate, in vacuum and at temperatures 170 degrees centigrade below zero.
In a statement, David Parker, ESA director for human and robotic exploration said: “Delivery of PROSPECT on the lunar surface at the beginning of the next decade will demonstrate ESA’s strong interest to become an important player in an international effort to sustainably explore the surface of the Moon.
“Moon is one of the destinations of the exciting ESA space exploration strategy and programme which calls for sustained human operations in Low Earth Orbit and an integrated approach for exploring Moon and Mars. Assessing the feasibility of economically exploiting local resources is critical for sustaining future human exploration endeavours and PROSPECT will deliver critical knowledge in this regard”.
The €8m agreement was signed this week at Farnborough International Air Show.