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There will soon be a network of satellites around the Moon

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The European Space Agency (ESA) has just clarified its plan to establish a network of satellites around the Moon. The project, called Moonlight, will aim to support a permanent human presence by facilitating space navigation around our satellite. It will also be a question of preparing the way for manned missions in deep space.

Led by NASA, the Artemis program is an international collaboration aimed at establishing a permanent human presence on lunar soil by the end of the decade. As part of this project, ESA will provide essential components, including the communication module for the new space station around the Moon, as well as a communication relay such as the Lunar Pathfinder.

Through the company Airbus, Europe is also developing service modules for Orion spacecraft which will be responsible for sending astronauts to the Moon.

A constellation of satellites

That’s not all. ESA will also support two business consortia to develop a network of satellites around the Moon.

Over the next few years, dozens of international, institutional and commercial teams will send missions to our satellite. In other words, the lunar expeditions will no longer be one-off, but regular.

This initiative, called Moonlight, will therefore aim to “facilitate this lunar exploration by creating a reliable and efficient telecommunications and navigation network through a constellation of lunar satellitess ”, underlines Elodie Viau, director of the Telecommunications and Integrated Applications branch of ESA.

Illustration of what a permanent human presence on the Moon might look like. Credits: ESA – P. Carril

For example, a constellation of lunar satellites could allow missions to land anytime and anywhere. In addition to the advantages inherent in navigation, such instruments could also allow researchers to place instruments and other observatories on the dark side of the Moon. On the spot, the rovers could also move more quickly.

But that will only be the beginning, ”adds the researcher. “This will help us pave the way for missions to Mars and beyond“.

This announcement marks the start of a study period of twelve to eighteen months during which ESA will meet with actors from the private sector to develop this communication network. If the feasibility of the project is validated, the objective will be to present the plan to the Council of Ministers of the agency. for implementation by 2022. If everything goes as planned, the first satellites could then be operational by the end of the decade.


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