ESA Looking for Commercial Ride for ISRU Lunar Mission

Lunar base made with 3D printing (Credit: ESA/Foster + Partners)

PARIS (ESA PR) — In the first act of lunar exploration, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were major characters. In setting its sights on the Moon, ESA hopes to bring many more actors to this off-world stage.

By testing the market for transport services to the Moon, ESA aims to push the limits of technology and create new models of space business.

Touching down on the Moon was a monumental moment in human history. Eight short years and enormous resources took humankind to the lunar surface, initially for less than one day. Those small steps for humanity, and the missions that followed, taught us much about the Moon, our cosmic time capsule. But humans have not returned since Apollo 17 departed in 1972.

Today’s technology could easily get us back to the Moon, but it is still expensive to develop the ride and take everything needed to support life with us. ESA wants our return to the Moon to be sustainable and based on partnerships – not only with international space agencies but also with business. A commercial approach may just be the ticket – literally and figuratively – to making it happen.

Rather than develop a complete lander mission from scratch – a long and costly process – ESA wants to buy a ride on a commercial lander to deliver our precious research equipment safely to the surface. Once there, we are ready to pay the ‘roaming charges’ to talk to our hardware.

But for our return to the Moon to be truly sustainable, we must make use of lunar resources. So in addition to transportation and communication, we are looking to invest in the development and pay for the use of technology that can turn indigenous lunar material into oxygen and water, critical resources for sustaining future human operations in deep space.

Why the emphasis on sustainability? If been there, done that were the sole definition of exploration, then setting our sights only on more remote parts of our Solar System would make sense. But while we learned a lot about the Moon from Apollo, we literally just scratched the surface of Earth’s eighth continent.

Satellites orbiting the Moon have since revealed the presence of oxygen and water ice. These are potential usable resources for our spacefaring future.

Shaping the Next Act

ESA is inviting service providers with the right ideas to take part in a one-year study that will shape this In-Situ Resource Utilisation Demonstrator Mission. We want to hear what commercial partners need from us and share what we expect from them.

Together, we want to explore what it would mean to make lunar exploration a viable, competitive, and, most importantly, sustainable endeavour.

We want to go back to the Moon to crack its mysteries and use it as a springboard towards humanity’s future in deep space. If you are a commercial enterprise ready to take on the challenge and build on the legacy of Neil and Buzz, then we want to hear from you.

Find more information and details on how to submit proposals here and apply here.

 

  • Saturn13

    Maybe a job for BO. Their lander can carry a lot of cargo to the Moon.

  • windbourne

    Imagine that. Nations wanting to pay commercial groups to get to the moon.

  • Aerospike

    I would rather bet my money on Astrobotic and MoonExpress in combination with a cheap commercial ride like a SpaceX Falcon 9.

    We don’t really know anything about how far along BO is with New Glenn and their notional Lunar Lander, but considering the timelines of planned lunar landings (early 2018 for MoonExpress and iirc 2019 for Astrobotic), I don’t see BO jumping ahead of them.

  • Aegis Maelstrom

    This is an announcement and attitude awaited by many on both hobbyist and business fora.

    I think they should be applauded and next, tangible steps should be encouraged.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Hopefully ESA will also take the next step and urge its member nations to pass space resource laws modeled on the Luxembourg law. And instead try to get NASA to build its Moon Village make it a commercial partnership.

    And bonus points if it informs member nations that have signed the Moon Treaty they must withdraw if they wish to be part of it. It’s time to learn from economic history rather then repeat the mistakes of outdated economic philosophies.

    If ESA takes these bold steps, which will cost almost nothing, they could leap ahead and become the lead in the economic development of space, a role which will bring many economic benefits to Europe.

  • therealdmt

    I wonder how open they’ll be to buying commercial services from providers based in non-member nations? They are after all a political organization, with their work having historically been given to firms in proportion to the percentage financial contribution to the ESA budget of the state in which a firm is based

  • therealdmt

    I gotta say, you’ve been saying this would happen for a long time. You might have been on to something!

  • Valerij Gilinskij

    I have long to be convinced that Earthlings will return to the Moon not as a result of programs like Constellation or SLS & Orion, but as a result of creating a commercial infrastructure for flights to LEO and to the outer space. And now this news gives me the hope to see it in my lifetime.

    I really want to get acquainted with the full text of this document. And I am very disappointed that this text has not been published officially for free access. Somebody, please make a detailed review of this invitations. I’m wondering whether they can submit their proposals to firms from countries that are not members of the ECA? If so, on what terms? Will it be able to participate in the tender for SpaceX and BO?

    Of course, I would like Russia to take part in this project. But it is necessary to tell fairly – to us now for it to offer almost there is nothing. A maximum of only a few instruments. And it’s very sad.

  • Valerij Gilinskij

    In this case it should be an open international project. But can ESA not only buy services from countries that are not members of the ESA, but also subsidize the necessary development from them?

    And whether the United States can and NASA to abandon the failed and obviously wasteful projects to take part in a real exploration of the Moon?

  • Zed_WEASEL

    Moon Express can only deliver about several dozen kilograms to the Lunar surface with their powerpoint lander design that might show up in several years. They are not useful for ESA manned Moon missions.

    Astrobotics can delivered about a few tonnes to the Moon’s surface. Great for exploration missions, not so much for manned Moon missions.

    Blue is not fielding anything until they have a working BE-4 MethoLox engine.

    So that left SpaceX. We will have a better idea of what coming down the pipeline from them after the Sept 29th IAC presentation. Maybe they will field a lander that can landed 50+ metric tons of cargo on the Moon by the early 2020s.

  • passinglurker

    Blue is not fielding anything until they have a working BE-4 MethoLox engine.

    not how development works it is entirely possible to spilt staff between projects. You don’t need the engineers for landing rockets in the same room as the engine engineers all the time.

    As for spaceX do you actually have any hint they are moving towards a moon lander aside from gut feelings and wild ITSy speculation? Let alone “by early 2020” you’d be lucky to the first stage of an ITSy fly by then let alone most of the vehicles people will believe will fly on top.

  • Aerospike

    Nothing about that RFP is directly related to manned missions, those are a few years down the road at best, so I guess the capabilities of MoonExpress and Astrobotic are more than adequate for some ESA science payloads.

    Speaking of capabilities: MoonExpress has already tested a previous design, so even if they have a new design that seems far from ready, at least they should have the technology more or less ready. But we will see next year if they are ready – if they want to win the GLXP for real, they have not much time left.

    @ Astrobotic: their peregrine lander has a payload capability of 35 kg according to their webpage and the fuel mass is only 450kg.
    No idea where you got your “a few tonnes” figure?

  • Search

    Not any different than what NASA has been doing for over a decade now with its various public-private partnerships

  • Search

    “I would rather bet my money on Astrobotic and MoonExpress” LoL. Because we don’t hear much from BO they must not be doing anything right – well except occasionally developing their own rockets, engines, capsules, and working on that stage landing thing, while getting comparatively scant money from the treasury..

  • Search

    What “capabilities”? Link to some pictures of real flight hardware please. Not mockups or ground “demonstrators”.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    The 35 kg payload is for the first mission of the Peregrine Lander. According to page 6 of the Peregrine Lander payload user’s guide version 2.1. The lander is capable of landing 294 kg on the Moon as the primary payload on a TLI launch orbit. Actual mission payload mass to the Moon is 588 hg since it is a dual lander mission. Since the Peregrine Lander is about the size and mass of a Iridium Next comsat. So in theory you could mounted 10 Peregrine Landers like the current Iridium Next comsats inside a SpaceX payload fairing for a Moon mission on a Falcon Heavy.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    You really think a BO Moon Lander will fly on anything besides the New Glenn?

    There will be some sort of ITSy proposal from SpaceX. Musk tweeted that you could have a 9 meter diameter launch vehicle assembled at Hawthorne. Which is roughly NOVA class that can be launch from the existing pads at KSC.

    Of course Musk have overly optimist schedules. We will just have to wait and see.

  • passinglurker

    Oh god its like I’m talking to mirror universe Gary /jk

    You really think a BO Moon Lander will fly on anything besides the New Glenn?

    You’re in a bit to much of a rush to get boots on the moon is what I really think. but yes if the price is right I’d imagine Bezos would put a lander on the rocket of his customer’s choice, and by the time anyone is actually considering large landers customers will have plenty of options for heavy launch vehicles. So in the end BE-4 isn’t really a big pacer component here.

    As for spaceX they pulled off that rapid leap from falcon 1 to falcon 9 by playing crazy smart relying on a lot of existing well understood technologies and building around the engine they already had to make what started as a very plain and conventional rocket before undergoing iterative “test as you go” development to make the falcon we have now.

    ITSy on the other hand is built around a lot of new things (FFSC, Carbon tankage, methane, being crazy big, etc…) So I honestly don’t expect to see the same extreme “zero to lightspeed in 4 years flat” development. I’m sure it will all be very impressive when it flies, and SLS sets a very low bar so I don’t doubt its chances of ultimately suceeding, but lets not get ahead of ourselves on schedules and performance its still not the coming of rocket jesus.

  • windbourne

    There really is no other choice.
    But, it was not me that really said it.
    It was Bigelow.
    I just realized that they were right.

  • windbourne

    While I have real issues with Putin, I think it is a horrible mistake to not do the moon with them. Basically, we should continue the space partnership.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “So I honestly don’t expect to see the same extreme “zero to lightspeed in 4 years flat” development.”
    I take your point of the added difficulty of using new tech that may slow development. On the other hand, SpaceX now have a huge amount of experience in thermals, software, materials, software, manufacture, software testing, software, design, and don’t forget about software. They were all but newbies in many areas when they started on F9. So yes they will have to overcome new technological hurdles, but compared to F9 their starting point as an space organisation is already at least half way up the development mountain. Also, Elon’s experience both at SpaceX and Tesla appears to have added a degree of pragmatism to temper his ambitious idealist – think Model Y on the Model 3 platform, and now subscale ITS.

  • passinglurker

    Even with expertise ITSy is an order of magnitude jump like the jump from falcon1 to falcon9 it would be naive to assume it will all go smoothly. I welcome space x to prove that wrong but I’d still be cautious in the meantime, and despite promises I’m not really expecting this vehicle to come into it’s own until late 20’s to early 30’s

    ITSy being big and “nova class” as others have held up doesn’t make it more viable, musk isn’t midas, and private industry while better than corrupt government contracting is not a panacea, and I think the trust and enthusiasm must fans seem to have can be dangerous especially for a large rocket that could demand a large share of available government and investor funding potentially starving out more sensible and achievable alternatives much like shuttle, ares, and sls have done.

    There is also the issue of a market for such a vehicle. Both geo and military are on a decline and that is not likely to change by early 2020’s. Leo constellations still face many legal hurdles as they are running against some of the biggest lobby arms in the country, and commercial space stations if they ever become a thing won’t be happening till the later 2020’s. Simply put the time line fans have for ITSy and the time line for any potential “spaceboom” this vehicle could service just doesn’t line up.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    I wasn’t suggesting that all will go definitely smoothly with “ITSy” development, just that they are in a better position to tackle the jump from F9 B5 to BFR/BFS than they were from F1 to F9 – they do already have Raptor. My point though, is that there are just as many reasons to be optimistic as pessimistic – ask me again after the 29th and my half full glass may have become as half empty as your’s seems to be.

    I will agree that the route to building a market for regular cheap launches sufficient to keep production facilities efficient, is a problem more complex than simply reeling off a few possibilities. It will likely come down to how keen humanity is to expand into space. Will it be a case of “build it and they will come”?, or is the universe better off with humans restricted to one rock?.

  • ThomasLMatula

    More likely it will depend on how fast entrepreneurs use the new capability to create business models that use it.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    I think you may be conflating “free market” economics with “human nature”.

  • ThomasLMatula

    And the difference is?

    Free markets are based on human nature – each player doing what is in their best interests based on the best available information. That is why they are so effective in generating technological progress and wealth.

    The basic problem with controlled markets is that it’s based on a limited number of “experts”, always working with much less information and wisdom than society as a whole has, deciding what is best for everyone.

    The experts at NASA decided decades ago reusability was impractical so they gave up on it. Free markets, SpaceX and Blue Origin, have, as always, proved the decision the experts made were wrong and advanced the technology for rockets as a result.