The European Space Agency (ESA) initiated the third round of a series of studies for the exploration of caves on the Moon. It is an offshoot of five previous studies in a program called Sysnova, which looked, for example, for a way to lower a probe inside a lunar cave and still keep feeding and communicating with her.
Of the five original studies, three “mission scenarios” were created: one to find cave entrances, another to carry out a detailed study of the entrance to a cave and another to explore a cave. lava tube using autonomous robots (rovers).
ESA will evaluate two of these three scenarios, focusing exclusively on exploring the entrance to a cave, but combining aspects of all of the original scenarios. Studying the cave entrances on the Moon is an invaluable tool for understanding the natural resources that may be available to future explorers underground in our satellite.
The studies will also be a key part of studying the radiation protection offered by the regolith lunar. Depending on its effectiveness, this protection can be crucial in determining the location of a future permanent base.
The first plan was created by the University of Würzburg, Germany. His researchers developed a spherical probe that can be lowered through the mouth of a cave by a crane connected to a rover. The probe will be protected by a transparent plastic sphere, and will have a Lidar to map the terrain in 3D, an optical camera and a dosimeter to measure radiation levels.
The second plan, created by the University of Oviedo, in Spain, focuses on wireless energy and data transmission. A "cargo head" would be attached to a crane installed in a rover, and used to feed and communicate with autonomous rovers inside the cave, which would not have their own source of energy. Power for the rover and the cargo head would be provided by painéis solares connected to the rover.
Both plans would last for one lunar day, equivalent to 14 earth days. ESA wants to integrate the results of these missions with two others from its lunar exploration efforts. The European Large Logistics Lander (EL3) would be used to transport and build the necessary infrastructure for a permanent human presence. An initiative called Moonlight focuses on wireless communication and navigation systems for lunar exploration vehicles.
Both missions are in the concept phase. The responsible teams will now work at an ESA facility called Concurrent Design Facility (CDF) in the Netherlands, where they will have access to computers, multimedia systems and software tools to develop their concepts.