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New government funding helps UK businesses lead the way for future lunar missions

In what will be the first commercial service of its kind in the world, Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), Inmarsat and MDA UK are among those who have won contracts with the European Space Agency (ESA), worth € ‘a little over £ 2million in total, to shape the infrastructure for future lunar exploration.

NASA plans to return to the moon by 2024 and, in collaboration with ESA and other partners, intends to put a gateway with living quarters for astronauts in lunar orbit. Reliable navigation and telecommunications capabilities are essential for these missions, and others like them, to be successful.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said:

People around the world will be extremely excited about the upcoming missions to the Moon – and I am proud that UK space companies are leading the way in making them a reality.

UK navigation and telecommunications expertise is second to none and this first commercial service of its kind – led by some of the UK’s most innovative companies – demonstrates our ambition for the UK to become a leading space nation in the world.

As part of ESA’s Moonlight program, Guildford-based SSTL Lunar will lead a consortium including Airbus in Portsmouth, Goonhilly Earth Station in Cornwall and the Nottingham satellite navigation company GMV-NSL, to plan how they could provide data relay services for communication and navigation around the moon. .

Guildford-based SSTL Lunar will lead a consortium to plan how it could provide data relay services for communication and navigation around the Moon. Credit: SSTL-UK

The study will define the infrastructure needed by the consortia to provide a constellation of lunar communication and navigation satellites that would allow surface missions operating across the moon, without a direct line of sight to Earth, to stay in line. permanent contact with Earth. It will also provide lunar navigation signals to support the precision landing of scientific equipment and the operation of rovers.

Elodie Viau, Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications at ESA, said:

A lasting link with the Moon enables sustainable space exploration for all of our international partners, including commercial space companies. Using an ESA-supported telecommunications and navigation service for the Moon, explorers will be able to navigate smoothly and relay to Earth all the knowledge acquired during these lunar missions.

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

Communications could be maintained between the Earth and the Moon without a direct line of sight. Credit: ESA

SSTL CEO Phil Brownnett said:

The selection for the moonlight study is another step forward for our SSTL lunar team and, together with our consortium partners, we will bring a wealth of innovation and experience to our technical solution.

The consortium leadership builds on our successful collaboration with ESA for our Lunar Pathfinder communications spacecraft, which will provide the world’s first commercial lunar data relay service after launch in 2022.

A shared communication and navigation service will also reduce the price of the lunar exploration ticket and reduce the complexity of designing individual missions, potentially making them lighter and freeing up space for additional payloads.

Inmarsat, based in London, and MDA Space and Robotics Ltd (MDA UK), based at Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire, are part of a consortium led by Telespazio in Italy which is studying the development of a communications service. and Lunar Navigation System (LCNS) to support future scientific, exploration and commercial activities in orbit above and on the lunar surface.

Connect the Earth to the Moon

Credit: ESA

Yasrine Ibnyahya, Senior Director, Advanced Concepts and Technologies at Inmarsat, said:

Providing communication and navigation capabilities around the Moon is a major challenge, both technically and commercially. But I firmly believe that the expertise and strengths of Inmarsat and our partners can solve this challenge in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.

Communications and navigation are both core capabilities of Inmarsat’s land operations in orbit and on the ground, so it is only natural that we extend our reach and leverage our know-how beyond our home planet. at the moon.

“This lunar project is only the first step in unlocking future opportunities. It can become the hub to facilitate human space exploration, further technological developments, and perhaps access to new resources.

David Kenyon, Managing Director of MDA Space and Robotics Ltd, said:

MDA UK has a long history of supporting commercial and government space missions, having recently successfully delivered the ColKa Communications Terminal for the International Space Station. We are delighted to bring our expertise to this exciting consortium study on the communication and navigation needs of the future lunar economy and hope that our communication technologies, developed in the UK, will form the basis of this new innovative service.

The results of the latest ‘Size and Health of the UK Space Industry’ report, commissioned by the UK Space Agency and released this week, show UK space sector revenues have increased from £ 15.6 billion to £ 16 , £ 4 billion, a growth of £ 5.7 billion. % in real terms while employment is up by 3,200, from 41,900 to 45,100.

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