SSTL & Goonhilly Sign Agreement With ESA for Commercial Lunar Missions

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Surrey Satellite PR) — Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), Goonhilly Earth Station (GES) and the European Space Agency (ESA) have signed a collaboration agreement for Commercial Lunar Mission Support Services at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs today. This innovative commercial partnership for exploration between ESA, GES and SSTL aims to develop a European lunar telecommunications and navigation infrastructure, including the delivery of payloads and nanosats to lunar orbit.

The partnership allows for a low-risk, phased approach to implementing a sustainable, long-term commercial service and will support lunar scientific and economic development, both for Europe and for the rest of the world. The agreement focusses on the upgrade of the Goonhilly Earth Station for commercial deep space services, and the maturation of the space segment with a lunar pathfinder mission. The cooperation also encompasses the commercial and regulatory support to catalyse the lunar economy and provide affordable access to the lunar environment, and ultimately deep space.

The agreement was signed by Sir Martin Sweeting, founder and Executive Chairman of SSTL, Ian Jones, founder and Chief Executive of GES and Dave Parker, Director of Human and Robotic Exploration at ESA.

Dave Parker commented “The agreement between ESA and SSTL/GES establishes ESA’s first partnership for providing commercial services in support of lunar missions. Commercial lunar communication, navigation and transportation services will enable ESA to deliver innovative lunar missions at lower costs. The Lunar Pathfinder mission would provide exciting new opportunities for science and technology demonstration and open deep space access to new actors. This commercial partnership is part of a broader ESA innovation plan aimed at creating new opportunities for and engaging new actors in delivering the European Space Exploration Envelope Programme. Further, this activity is consistent with the ESA Director General’s wider Moon Village concept, in which actors around the world can contribute in different ways to sustained lunar exploration.”

Sir Martin Sweeting, who is attending Space Symposium this year, commented “I am delighted that this collaboration agreement will enable new, and regular, mission opportunities to the Moon, which I believe is the next frontier for commerce and sustainable solar system exploration and exploitation.”

Ian Jones remarked that “This partnership opens a new chapter on the development of international exploration of the Moon and beyond. We are excited about the potential of our new partnership with SSTL and ESA to make the commercial lunar economy a reality.”

Alice Bunn, International Director at the UK Space Agency, said: “The UK is at the vanguard of a new, commercial era of space exploration, where costs are lower and innovative companies are changing the way things are done. While this agreement covers missions to the Moon, there is no reason why we couldn’t see a similar service for Mars in the future. The UK Government’s Industrial Strategy sets out how we are working with industry to ensure businesses can pursue new commercial opportunities, and establishing the UK as a world leading destination for space launch.”

Following the recent announcement of the GES ground segment upgrade to form the world’s first deep space commercial node, the partners are now jointly committed to the maturation of the Lunar Pathfinder space segment for a low cost “Ride and Phone Home” capability. The Lunar Pathfinder mission will offer a ticket to lunar orbit for payloads and nanosats onboard an SSTL lunar mothership spacecraft, which will provide communications data relay and navigation services between customer payloads and the GES Deep Space ground station. The £1m per kilogram ticket for a flight opportunity in the 2022 timeframe includes an end-to-end mission service which supports the integration, transportation and deployment of payloads, the provision of data relay and navigation services via the dedicated ESA ESTRACK deep space network, and a simple web-based interface for payload operations and return of mission data.

Private and agency Lunar landers, rovers and surface impactors will also be able to sign up to use the lunar communications and navigation services provided by the mothership either for primary mission operations, to provide additional capacity, or as a back-up service. For prospecting, exploring, and ultimately utilising the far side of the Moon, this communications relay service will be a mission enabler, providing the vital bridge between Earth and the lunar surface. Exploring the far side of the Moon, particularly the South Pole Aitkin Basin, is a key area for future robotic and human exploration due to its chemical and mineral composition. The stable elliptical orbit of the mothership will allow for long duration visibility of the Southern Lunar Hemisphere each day, with maximum opportunities for the transmission and reception of data between Earth and the lunar surface.

Prospective customers for Lunar Ride and Phone Home opportunities are invited to contact lunar@sstl.co.uk

  • Aerospike

    Good! Europe and especially ESA finally “waking up” and recognizing the changing state of how things get done in space.

    If only they would now fast-trac european commercial launcher programs as well..

  • Tony_Morales

    The only European commercial launch company with SpaceX-like aspirations in terms of reusability that I know of are PLD Space in Spain. They have received funding from the European Union and ESA as part of programs to develop small satellite launch vehicles, in addition to funding from the Spanish government and Spanish multinational GMV. Of course, the rocket they plan on developing I believe is supposed to compete directly with the likes of Rocket Lab, but I don’t really know how well reusability will fit into that small of a rocket. Hopefully though, they can show some serious ingenuity and surprise us all with some new reusability techniques or technology for a smallsat launcher, and showcase what Europe is truly capable of.

  • passinglurker

    Forget reusability how about scale? Commercial small sat launchers are a dime a dozen.

  • Paul451

    If only they would now fast-trac european commercial launcher programs as well..

    Do they need to? With lower launch costs, launches could be a much smaller part of any space program, and therefore less important. Better for ESA to just buy commercial launches from the lowest cost launchers (even if they are American) and focus their industry on mission hardware. Orbital refuelling, satellite refurbishment, ISRU, etc, where there’s still a chance that they can dominate an industry. Plus free up funding for more science missions.

    (Even space stations. Bigelow hasn’t flown and their designs are limited. So there’s plenty of room for European competition (and provides a natural progression for the ATV engineers). And with ISS clearly approaching it’s end, and taking lessons from its limitations, ESA could develop a manned space-program without the cost of developing man-rated launchers, capsules, etc. Just build the European-controlled hardware, loft it on a cheap heavy-lift launcher, and fly crew commercially. Then use that as a spring-board to spirally develop outwards.)

  • Tony_Morales

    Who knows, they may pull a SpaceX and scale up if they can prove their smallsat launcher works (scale up not quite to Falcon 9 lift capability, but perhaps up to just VEGA’s or Soyuz’s capabilities to compete against them, maybe also against India’s PSLV).

  • passinglurker

    Most of the serious small sat launchers I’ve seen are clustering tiny engines just to lift a tiny rocket so there is no room for them to scale up. Do you know any small launchers that are using a single engine for its first stage, and therefore would actually have some growth options?