European Space Agency (ESA) & European Space Resources Innovation Centre (ESRIC) challenged European and Canadian engineering teams to develop vehicles capable of prospecting resources within a testbed of the Moon’s shadowy polar regions. Five winners are receiving development grants of 75 000€ each to move their rovers forward to the next phase of the contest, to be held in Luxembourg in September 2022.
It is 2028. The European Large Logistic Lander just descended in the area between the Shoemaker and Faustini crater in the South Pole region of the Moon. The mission: to characterise and locate resources (water and metals..) and produce an accurate map of the little impact crater a few hundred meters from the lander, to make a first resource map to guide future missions… We’re not there yet, but this mission scenario is very close to what a future European mission could look like.
The Moon is the next step in human exploration, and prospecting – in other words detecting and locating – resources on the Moon is the first mandatory step toward collecting and using them in-situ to establish human habitats there.
THE FIRST EUROPEAN PROSPECTING CHALLENGE
Terrestrial prospecting technologies need to be adapted to the rigours of a dusty, vacuum environment and temperature extremes of the lunar surface. This is the reason why the European Space Resources Innovation Center (ESRIC) and the European Space Agency (ESA) challenged last summer, and for the first time, European and Canadian engineering teams from academia and industry to develop vehicles capable of prospecting resources known to lurk in these shadowy regions – then put their designs to the test in a realistic lunar analog environment.
The first part of the ESA-ESRIC Space Resources Challenge was organised in the Netherlands, next to the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) facilities. Working inside a former aircraft hangar, the competition organisers spread 200 tons of lava rock across an area equivalent to seven tennis courts, landscaping it into a Moon-like environment, including the main crater of interest. Then they scattered rocks, including a hundred larger simulated boulders larger than a metre across, whose positions were precisely geo-referenced.