ESMO Mission

In March 2006, the Education Department of the European Space Agency approved the European Student Moon Orbiter (ESMO) mission proposed by the Student Space Exploration & Technology Initiative (SSETI) association for a Phase A Feasibility Study.

If found to be feasible, ESMO will be the third mission to be designed, built and operated by European students through the SSETI association, and would join many other contemporary missions to the Moon such as ESA’s SMART-1, the Chinese Chang’e-1, the Indian Chandrayaan, JAXA’s SELENE and Lunar-A, and NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The ESMO mission objectives are summarised as follows:

• Education: prepare students for careers in future projects of the European space exploration and space science programmes by providing valuable hands-on experience on a relevant & demanding project

• Outreach: acquire images of the Moon and transmit them back to Earth for public relations and education outreach purposes

• Science: perform new scientific measurements relevant to lunar science & the future human exploration of the Moon, in complement with past, present and future lunar missions

• Engineering: provide flight demonstration of innovative space technologies developed under university research activities

The ESMO spacecraft would be launched in 2011 as an auxiliary payload into a highly elliptical, low inclination Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) on the new Arianespace Support for Auxiliary Payloads (ASAP) by either Ariane 5 or Soyuz from Kourou. From GTO, the 200 kg spacecraft would use its on-board propulsion system for lunar transfer, lunar orbit insertion and orbit transfer to its final low altitude polar orbit around the Moon. A 10 kg miniaturised suite of scientific instruments (also to be provided by student teams) would perform measurements during the lunar transfer and lunar orbit phases over the period of a few months, according to highly focussed science objectives. The core payload would be a high-resolution narrow angle CCD camera for optical imaging of lunar surface characteristics. Optional payload items being considered include a LIDAR, an IR hyperspectral imager, a mini sub-surface sounding radar for polar ice detection, and a Cubesat subsatellite for precision gravity field mapping via accurate ranging of the subsatellite from the main spacecraft.

Two different spacecraft designs are being studied in parallel and traded-off by the students during the Phase A: one based on a hybrid solid/liquid propulsion system, and one relying upon solar electric propulsion. The former would allow a rapid transfer to the Moon within a few days, but with a reduced payload, whereas the latter would take up to 12 months for the lunar transfer phase with the benefit of giving greater payload accommodation and wide launch window flexibility. Other technologies include miniaturised avionics, and lightweight structure and solar array. The mission would need to be supported by a Global Educational Ground Station Network for TT&C, a single large ground station for payload data downlink from lunar orbit, and several student-run Mission Control Centres. The mission would end in 2012 with a targeted impact of the spacecraft into a polar region at around 2 km/s, and ground-based telescopes would observe the impact ejecta plume for traces of water ice, as planned for the retirement of many lunar spacecraft including SMART-1.

Preparations for the Phase A include a Call For Proposals to European student teams for the spacecraft subsystems, ground segment, and scientific payload. The deadline for submission of proposals to the SSETI association is 15th August 2006. A team selection process will be made by Education Department and the SSETI association during September 2006, closely followed by a study on ESMO in the ESTEC Concurrent Design Facility (CDF). Student workshops will take place at ESTEC in October 2006 and January 2007, with the latter performed in the CDF accompanied by training of the students in concurrent design methods and tools. The go/no-go decision to implement the ESMO mission and proceed to launch will be made following the Phase A study review to be conducted by Education Department, ESA technical experts and the SSETI association in July 2007.