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Surrey’s ‘Ice Mapper’ space mission could throw light on the moon’s resources

The Surrey Space Centre has won funding from the European Space Agency to explore icy water on the moon – which could be a vital resource for manned lunar missions in the future.

The ‘Ice Mapper’  space mission development project, being co-developed by Surrey Space Centre (SSC) in collaboration with Canadian fibre laser expert MPB Communications (industrial prime partner), University of Winnipeg and Lens R&D in the Netherlands, is one of four  funded by the European Space Agency (ESA).

Initially focused on preliminary studies involving simulations, Surrey’s project aims to use a tiny ‘CubeSat’ satellite to explore the moon’s resources.

The work will pave the way for the ESA’s long-term vision of a ‘Moon Village’. Planned as the first permanent base on the moon, this would enable different spacefaring nations to explore research, mining and even tourism on the moon with the help of robots and astronauts.

The ‘Ice Mapper’ concept is to send a very small 12U spacecraft (the size of a hand luggage suitcase) into orbit to establish key information about icy water which is trapped in shadowed areas of the moon such as at its South Pole. Water is a crucial resource when it comes to sending humans to the moon: not only could it be used directly for life supplies, it could also be put into chemical processes to generate energy.

The mission would investigate factors such as the volume and precise location of the water ice, initially operating from orbit but with the potential to be used in situ on the moon. In this mission Phase A study currently funded by ESA, researchers of the consortium  are demonstrating the viability of a lunar CubeSat through simulations and laboratory based experiments.

The research builds on SSC’s heritage in lunar studies, with SSC and Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (originally a University spin-out company, now part of Airbus Defence and Space) having led previous UK lunar initiatives MoonLITE and Moonraker.

While it is nearly half a century since the first man walked on the moon, there has been a renewed interest in lunar exploration over the past decade among the global space community. Technological advances have meant that today, humans could better capitalise on the moon’s resources – such as water ice, metals and minerals – and spend time on the moon.

Professor Yang Gao, who is leading the Ice Mapper project at Surrey, commented: “We know that visiting the moon could enable us to learn more about fundamental scientific questions such as the evolution of the solar system, so it is a very important goal. Our Ice Mapper mission aligns with the long-term roadmap of ESA and could make a significant contribution to this vision.”

Discover our recent research papers on lunar regolith: ‘Investigation of the properties of icy lunar polar regolith simulants; and ‘Lunar soil strength estimation based on Chang’E-3 images’.

Explore our programmes in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, including our BEng/MEng degrees in Electronic Engineering with Space Systems and our MSc in Space Engineering.

 

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