UCL News


Fly me to the moon

16 January 2007

UCL space scientists have contributed to a feasibility study for the UK's first mission to the moon, which may launch within the next few years.


In collaboration with Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd - one of the UK's leading space technology companies - the study, made public on 10 January 2007, lays out concepts for two robotic missions to the moon.

The concept for 'MoonRaker' is a small propulsive lander to provide in-situ geological dating, and 'MoonLITE', an orbiting instrument that will release instrumented probes that will penetrate the lunar surface.

Professor Alan Smith (UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory) told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The idea is that by about 2010 we will launch four scientific high-impact probes. They will land on the moon at speeds of up to 700mph. They will make various scientific measurements sampling various parts of the moon."

The probes would carry seismometers to investigate the lunar interior and would also have a telecommunications capability to demonstrate high data rate telecoms on the moon.

Dr Andrew Coates (UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory) added: "There have been 12 astronauts on the Moon and more than 40 unmanned probes and yet we know surprisingly little about our nearest neighbour. Previous missions have focused on the side of the Moon that faces the Earth. Our plan with the four MoonLITE penetrators is to explore the mysterious far side of the Moon as well as the polar and equatorial regions on the near side."

MoonRAKER would then attempt to soft-land on the lunar surface, seeking suitable sites for eventual human habitation, as part of NASA's plans to begin establishing a Moon base by 2020.

Dr David Parker, Director of Space Science at the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) commented: "Stimulated by NASA, the past year has seen a remarkable effort by fourteen worldwide space agencies to begin to discuss how to work together in this new age of space exploration, to create a so-called Global Exploration Strategy, and the UK is a key player. These mission options exemplify the UK's expertise in small satellites, robotics and miniaturised science instruments."

UCL was one of the first universities in the world to become involved in making scientific observations in space. Since UCL MSSL was established in 1966, it has participated in over 35 satellite missions and has the unique capability of designing, building and testing instruments and other spacecraft systems on site.

UCL MSSL has instruments on board a number of international missions, including the NASA Cassini Saturn orbiter, the Japan/NASA/UK Hinode, the European Space Agency's Cluster, and the Chinese Double Star.

Image: MoonLITE (credit: SSTL)