Will 2018 be the year a new descent on the moon takes place? Many tests have been conducted to ensure that the landing will be successful and luckily it has been showing positive results.
About the new rocket: The ATV thruster has been tested using robotic practice landings. A rocket motor used by ESA engineers was confirmed fit to do the job when it was used on a simulated lunar descent and touchdown using an Automated Transfer Vehicle. This has also been demonstrated on International Space Station resupply missions confirming that it will be reliable.
Launch: This will be a leisurely flight plan. It will launch from Kourou, French Guiana and will be followed a one or two month cruise to lunar orbit.
Landing: The mission study manager Bérengère Houdou says the landing should take about 1.5h from a 100km lunar orbit. The final part of the landing predicted to be about 10min long will be very challenging due to large amounts of fuel burn, similar to that of the launch carried out by rocket power. As it approaches the moon, the rocket will have to undergo an immense change in mass. It will be so powerful that it could cause it to “bounce back” of the surface due to it being powerful enough to slow the craft’s early descent.
Houdou will create a cluster of motors which can be switched on or off which will mean vary in the total thrust. The ATV engine has been shown to be accurate and controllable even in high-frequency pulses. The 700-800kg robot would be aimed at the lunar South Pole, using automated systems to guide itself into a gentle, precision landing. This allows the spacecraft to avoid the effects of temperatures plunging as low as -170°C due to it being in constant sunshine for several months.
Michael Menking from the company observed: “This is an important technology project. For sure, it’s dedicated to the Moon but if you can make a soft, precision landing on the lunar surface you can also do it on other planetary bodies as well.”
Reliability and cost: Testing the rocket further they will need to analyse the performance of several engines when connected by shared fuel lines. This should review the design and should within the coming months outline the mission requirements and cost. Pending budget approval at this November’s meeting of ESA member-state government ministers, Houdou hopes to have the mission ready for final preparation in 2015. According to ESA’s Bérengère Houdou the results are positive: “The thruster operations were smooth and stable, with great performance, even under the stress of a lunar lander’s operating conditions.”
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