GPS and the other global positioning systems in the world all have one very limiting drawback: they are only global to one world. There is no equivalent to the precise geolocation capabilities that these systems provide for any other body in our solar system. Recently, there has been an increased focus on lunar missions, but nothing on the lunar surface can know exactly where it is. Enter the European Space Agency and their Moonlight initiative, recently featured in a video on their YouTube channel.
The Moonlight Initiative is ESA’s plan to launch a series of satellites into orbit around the moon that will serve two purposes: pinpoint geolocation on the lunar surface and high-speed data transmission back to Earth. These services will be targeted to one specific location in particular: the South Pole of the Moon.
Also, most plans for a permanent human presence on the moon revolve around the South Pole, for two main reasons. First, at least part of it is in daylight almost all of the time, so it doesn’t suffer from the two-week periods without sunlight that can drain a settlement’s batteries. Second, it has ice on the surface that can be used as a water supply.
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A specific location such as the South Pole allows the Moonlight Initiative to use fewer satellites than would be required to provide location and general data at any point on the lunar surface. ESA estimates that between 3 and 4 satellites will be required in highly eccentric orbits focused on the South Pole.
These satellites will again connect to three dedicated ground stations on Earth. Each will be positioned so that the satellites around the moon are never locked out of the network, no matter which side of the earth they are facing.
In addition, any vehicles planned to operate on the lunar surface can be designed to interface with the network. It can also act as a mesh system, allowing a rover or other mobile vehicle to communicate via a base station, e.g. B. one at a lander to send back to the network. According to some graphics included in the video, the data network could even extend to other orbital platforms like the Lunar Gateway.
All this infrastructure is necessary, but still a long way off. According to a disclaimer at the end of the video, “the number, size and design of the Moonlight satellites are currently being defined,” which is no doubt a long way from being complete, let alone ready for launch. But they have some time.
Artemis, the flagship of NASA’s lunar exploration program, is planned for 2025 at the earliest, but given how the system works, it could be even longer. Ultimately, the goal of this program is a permanent human presence on the lunar surface; Even after the first landing, there is enough time to perform this important service.
ESA plans to coordinate with a number of commercial partners to provide this service. In theory, if there is enough interest in a lunar base, the entire Moonlight Initiative could eventually be privatized and become part of the commercial infrastructure of humanity’s space expansion. But that’s just speculation for now, and while the video is impressive, there’s still a long way to go before there are any meaningful location or data services on the moon.
ESA – What is ESA’s Moonlight Initiative?
UT – Here is the exact point of the south pole of the moon
UT – Five rover teams selected to help explore the South Pole of the Moon
UT – Why is the south pole of the moon so important? It’s all about water
Description of the network connection over the moon that Moonlight initiates.
Credit – ESA
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