Recently, the European Space Agency (ESA) communicated on a future new space mission to the Moon. While this is a still hypothetical project that could start after 2030, the mission will have the merit of being the first to attempt an underground exploration of the Earth satellite.
A possible launch in 2033
For more than half a century, humans and especially robots have been exploring the surface of the Moon. Currently, the Chinese rover Yutu 2 (China) is also on the ground. However, if the lunar surface has already been extensively explored, this is not at all the case for cavities and other underground passages. In a press release dated March 16, 2022, the European Space Agency (ESA) therefore declared that it was working on a new exploration project. It will be a question of designing two robots (RoboCrane and Daedalus) in order to obtain information on the environment of the internal layers of the Moon.
This project, which should take place in parallel with the Artemis missions by 2033, has been in preparation since 2019. These preparations began as part of the Concurrent Design Facility (CDF) mission. In addition, the project, which still remains hypothetical, will involve the deployment of the two robots thanks to the future European Large Logistics Lander 3 (EL3).
In addition, the ESA has already defined the entry point of Daedalus, namely the chasm of the Marius Hills, in the Ocean of Storms. The RoboCrane robot will be responsible for dropping it off at this location at the start of its journey (see animation at the end of the article).
The ESA recalled that the Moon had a crust about fifty kilometers thick. It is characterized by the presence of numerous craters and tunnels, the formation of which dates back to three billion years ago when the satellite had a very significant geological activity. At the time, the lava flows had dug these cavities that ESA now wants to explore. The Daedalus robot will carry instruments that will allow researchers to better understand the geological history of the Moon, in particular by measuring temperatures and radiation levels. It will also be a question of mapping the network of underground tunnels, of carrying out 3D modeling of the places crossed as well as the stratigraphy of the lava walls.
It should be noted that this ESA mission could be useful for other projects, in particular that of NASA involving the sending of humans to explore the regolith plains as part of a future exploitation. In addition, the ESA could also give indications on possible underground natural shelters that astronauts could reach in order to protect themselves from cosmic radiation.