ESA’s Project Moonlight Gains £50m UKSA Pledge1st Mar 2023
The UK Space Agency announced on 27th February over £50 million in funding to companies developing communication and navigation technology for future Moon missions. The funding contributes to the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Project Moonlight program, which will establish communication and navigation services on the Moon through a constellation of satellites. With the funding announcement, UK companies can be part of the mission.
Maintaining the goal of creating shared telecommunications services on the Moon, the UKSA says that those involved in the Moonlight mission will be able to sell those solutions to other agencies and companies in the future.
With over 200 missions set to launch to the Moon by 2031, navigation and telecommunications are crucial to lunar exploration. In November 2022, Moonlight received financial backing from the ESA’s member states, in the hopes the mission will “reduce design complexity… and make each individual mission more cost-efficient”, instead of companies and organizations coordinating their own comms independently. Along with Italy, the UK is the top contributor to the Moonlight mission.
The UKSA says future astronauts, rovers and science experiments will be able to communicate and share large amounts of data across the lunar surface, with the Moonlight satellites.
“NASA plans to send astronauts to the Moon in the coming years and, working with ESA and other partners, intends to put a new space station called the Gateway with living quarters for astronauts in lunar orbit,” the UKSA says.
“Reliable navigation and communication capabilities are essential for these missions, and others like it, to succeed, supporting a future sustainable human presence on the Moon.”
UK leads in lunar comms
This funding comes on top of the UK’s existing Lunar Pathfinder project, which will provide initial communications services to the Moon. The relay spacecraft is designed by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), headquartered in Guildford, and is slated to launch in 2025.
UKSpace Chair John Hanley says that the government is not only investing in innovation and technological advancement through this funding, but “delivering a critical component of the forthcoming vibrant and thriving lunar economy”.
“We have seen previous lunar endeavours stimulate a range of unexpected technologies and processes used to enhance life on Earth, such as in food safety protocols or reflective insulation. This Moonlight investment will contribute to the next generation of advancements in lunar exploration that will lead to further scientific discoveries and technological improvements – all of which have the potential to benefit our lives on Earth.”UKSpace Chair John Hanley
The Project Moonlight news follows ESA’s announcement in early February that it was offering €200,000 to companies who would develop business ideas, such as restaurants, transport, and entertainment, that would require Moonlight’s telecommunications services. Before the Moonlight mission is well underway, ESA is hoping this opportunity will help the agency garner a sense of who its customers will be, and whether the needs of Earth users will be met.