Space collaboration launched

A space exploration collaboration between the UK and the US could result in a lunar telecoms network and the development of advanced exploration equipment.

The British National Space Centre (BNSC) and NASA issued a report from the Joint Working Group (JWG) on lunar exploration. Key cooperative research outlined in the report includes a mission to understand the Moon’s structure, listen for ‘Moonquakes’ and trial the lunar cell-phone network of the future.

One element of collaboration highlighted in the JWG report is the implementation of a UK-led robotic lunar mission, such as the Moon Lightweight Interior and Telecoms Experiment (MoonLITE) mission. Another would be the development of science instruments and technology needed for mid-term robotic and human exploration activities.

MoonLITE is a proposed small robotic mission to the Moon led by the Mullard Space Science Laboratory at University College London. It comprises a satellite which would travel to the Moon, enter its orbit and then release three or four small missile-like vehicles dubbed penetrators distributed over the Moon’s surface. Each penetrator would impact at high speed and embed instruments just under the Moon’s surface designed to reveal the interior structure of the Moon. The satellite orbiter would then act as a telecommunications relay station between the surface penetrators and Earth during its one-year life.

MoonLITE would deliver information about the Moon’s interior and history while testing the space communications network needed by future robotic and human explorers.

The proposed next steps involve an international scientific peer-review and a more detailed technical study of MoonLITE leading to a definitive cost estimate before a decision to go-ahead is taken. The launch date for MoonLITE is scheduled for 2012 at the earliest.