The European Space Agency Is Planning A Satellite Constellation Around The Moon

A constellation of satellites around the Moon. Image Credit: ESA CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

The European Space Agency (ESA) has announced its support for a Moonlight project where a consortium of private companies and institutions will launch a satellite constellation to create a permanent communication link around the Moon.

The current roadmap for the human return to the Moon is in the Artemis program, an international collaboration spearheaded by NASA, that will see people back on the Lunar surface by the end of the decade. ESA will provide essential components to these missions including the communication module for the new space station around the Moon, the Lunar gateway, as well as a communication relay such as the Lunar Pathfinder.

The two consortia spearheaded by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited and Telespazio will set a plan in motion to create this communication link between our planet and the Moon. ESA hopes that this would allow for cheaper missions to our natural satellite in the near future.  

“A lasting link with the Moon enables sustainable space exploration for all our international partners, including commercial space companies. By using an ESA-backed telecommunications and navigation service for the Moon, explorers will be able to navigate smoothly and to relay to Earth all the knowledge gained from these lunar missions,” Elodie Viau, Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications, said in a statement.

“A robust, reliable and efficient telecommunications and navigation system will make the dozens of individual missions planned for the Moon more cost-efficient and enable smaller countries to become space-faring nations, inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers.”

But not everyone is excited about these plans, or similar ones from NASA to create a 4G/LTE network on the Moon. Such an approach could interfere with an exciting prospect for the return to the Moon, the construction of a gigantic radio telescope inside one of its craters. The project, known as the Lunar Crater Radio Telescope (LCRT), was recently awarded $500,000 by NASA.

The LCRT would be on the far side of the Moon and thanks to this unique location and lack of interference it would be able to study the cosmic dark ages, the period of time in the Universe when no stars had been born yet. It would do so by studying the subtle emissions released by hydrogen for hundreds of millions of years.

Having a large number of communication satellites will certainly impact such a project and other scientific investigations that require the lunar sky to remain as pristine as possible. This could be similar to how satellite constellations are impacting astronomy on Earth today.



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