ESA Council Backs Lunar Gateway & Exploration, Mars Sample Return

The space station formerly known as the Deep Space Gateway (Credit: NASA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — Over the past 18 months, ESA and its Member States have gathered in a series of space exploration workshops culminating in a discussion in the ESA Council held in Paris on 13 June 2018.

The Council discussed Europe’s ambition to play a leading role in the global exploration of space based on its European Exploration Envelope Programme, (known as E3P) that was created by ESA’s ministers when they met in December 2016 in Lucerne, Switzerland.

Taking stock of previous decisions and progress in defining new missions, strong support emerged at the June Council on the shape of an exploration mission framework for the future of E3P. The framework foresees a balanced investment between ESA’s three exploration destinations (low Earth orbit, the Moon and Mars) and between human infrastructures, transportation and robotic missions.

Through a revised legal act, the Participating States in the E3P Programme also approved steps that could see Europe become a major player in the ‘Lunar gateway’, a concept that extends the presence of humans one thousand times farther into space compared with today.

The Council was informed that studies and technology developments are under way including enhancements of the European Service Module for NASA’s Orion spacecraft to support visiting astronauts as well as modules for the gateway itself. ESA held a Call for Ideas for use of the gateway in 2017, generating 100 ideas from the European science and technology community in areas as diverse as human physiology, Solar System science and lunar exploration. These preparations all look forward to possible decisions to be taken at the next Ministerial Council in 2019.

ESA’s Director of Human and Robotic Exploration David Parker says, “There’s no doubt that the next decade is going to be exciting for space exploration. ESA and its Member States are working hard to keep Europe at the heart of the journey of discovery and fascination that lies ahead, and the Council decision was an important step forward.”

The Member States also underlined the importance of implementing, in a timely manner, ongoing exploration activities. These include ESA’s central role in the International Space Station as well as the ExoMars programme. ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst returned to the International Space Station recently to work on an extensive scientific programme, while the Council heard that ExoMars 2020 completed its Critical Design Review in May, an important step towards launch.

Consequently, Member States supported the Director General’s plan to start:

  • negotiating agreements covering the elements of potential ESA contributions to the Lunar gateway, including both transportation and infrastructure;
  • negotiating agreement(s) covering potential European contributions to an international Mars Sample Return mission or other sample return missions;
  • examining scenarios and mission concepts for lunar exploration missions supporting the objectives of the European scientific community;

with the aim of finalising the agreements in time for their eventual approval at the Ministerial Council in 2019.

  • P.K. Sink

    This is all pretty exciting. Europe will make a great partner as we head out into the solar system. And our commercial partners will…finally…make it all affordable.

  • Sounds cool, go build it!

  • Xenophage

    The billion dollar/euro question is what should ESA do when congress orders NASA to change the focus (again) and cancel the gateway halfway into the program….

  • Zed_WEASEL

    Only when the Alabama Mafia and the Utah politicos are gone or the BFR fly on schedule. It is very hard to kill a NASA program with foreign partners along with the SLS cabal. The Marshall SFC and Johnson SC need the LOP-G to justified their budgets.

  • Robert G. Oler

    everyone needs more American money…this is going no where

  • Robert G. Oler


  • envy

    It doesn’t have to be LOP-G, though. It used to be Mars, then ARM.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    You are talking about the same thing. The PPE module of the LOP-G is the spacecraft bus for ARM. Which use to be the SEP propulsion for the Journey to Mars.

  • windbourne

    bummer. I was hoping that ESA would have SOME brains and would nix the lunar gateway.

  • windbourne

    Far better would be to use this money for helping 2-3 private space stations to get going. Yes, I know that there is a SMALL fund going into such a thing. BUT, we really need to launch multiple habitats and attach to the ISS NOW. And multiple space stations can compete in LEO and then if they feel like going to a lunar orbit later on, they can. But the money that we are talking for the lunar gateway is insane.

  • windbourne

    One thing that amazes me is that private space is getting going yet, they really are not diversifying the way I would expect.
    Look at
    Something similar to that would be ideal for dealing with ISS, as well as moving around asteroids, etc.
    So, new space would be smart to develop something like this, and then sell time to NASA.
    The ability to work on the outside of the ISS in a safe environment would be a huge boon.

  • windbourne

    MSR sounds good, but lunar gateway? What value does it have?
    Might it be better to get small private space stations going in LEO and then have one of them go for a bid to put on in EL1 halo orbit?

  • I know it’s not popular in the space advocacy community, but the gateway it’s doable now without any technical or funding breakthroughs. I’m sick of overambitious space programs dying when funding and technical realities set in. I’d rather have something less glamorous that gets built than always hoping for the NEXT plan, NEXT president, NEXT space race, NEXT Cold War…

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    The MMSEV is an very interesting inspace vehicle but before we can use it the USA needs to return people to space. Hopefully the Dragon V2 and Starliner will solve that problem.

    IMHO A reusable manned LEO to lunar orbit vehicle will be useful.

  • windbourne

    Yeah, that is why I wanted to see ACE and Bigelow developed quickly. BA-330, combined with ACE, would do the trick. And taking 6-10 ppl to the moon would do the trick.

  • windbourne

    Lets say that we develop the LOP. What does it get us? Nothing much. The reason is that it is 1 unit. Worse, it will likely be given to L-Mart/Axiom.

    By spending that money on building multiple private space habitats, vetting them, and THEN moving 1 to LOP, we gain redundancy in our ability for habitation. This would be a lot cheaper than going with LOP and accomplish a great deal more. Would you not agree?

    Think about it. We have the PERFECT example. Orion vs Dragon V2/Boeing star-liner. Orion was designed/built by NASA/L-Mart. It has cost 13+B.

    OTOH, we have dragon, star-liner, and Dream Chaser. Only Dragon is good enough to go BEO, but, the total costs for all of this, including multiple launches will be less than 7B.

    With Orion, if it blew up, we would be out for several years. Minimum.
    With the commercial crew, if we lose one, we still have the other 2.
    And lets be honest. The idea of going to mars in Orion absolutely should NOT appeal to anybody.

    So, the point is, that by working with private space, we gained redundancy and at a fraction of the price, as well as a great deal quicker. More importantly, CONgress will not be able to control getting to space. So, if we focus on private habitats instead of 1 special that is designed to ‘give value’ to SLS, we will be much further ahead.

  • How do you propose getting “CONgress” to fund and support a plan that takes control away from “CONgress”?

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    BA-330s can act as the habitation module of the lunar gateway and the living area of a lunar base.

  • windbourne

    Same way new space came about. Trump will have to do it.
    Now the question is, will it?
    Yeah, I know.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    Well the BFS fits that mission description and is underway at San Pedeo CA. There is no need for the MMSEV or similar vehicles if the BFS flys on schedule. The entire LOP-G stack also could be replaced with a BFS orbiting the Moon.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    The BFS has not flown yet.