“We have never been at the back side of the Moon,” says Ralf Jaumann, head of planetary geology at German aerospace center's Institute of Planetary Research. “We have just a few probes on the front and we don't know much about the inside.”
Despite the potential for scientific advancement, the primary goal of this lunar lander mission is to demonstrate the capability to execute a soft, precision landing. The vehicle is to be powered by five lightweight, 500-newton European Apogee Motors being developed by Astrium Satellites. During the lander's decent, its precision movements would be guided in part by six 220-newton thrusters developed for the ATV, along with technologies that enable the cargo tug's unique rendezvous and docking capability.
Italy is also keen to develop technologies that could enable future missions to the Moon or other bodies. With financial backing from the Piedmont regional government, Thales Alenia Space-Turin is developing a spate of demonstrations, including a pressurized surface rover to ferry astronauts across the Moon's surface.
Part of the €10-million Systems and Technologies for Space Exploration (Steps) program, the rover incorporates an inflatable airlock for astronaut entry/exit and an innovative electric motor wheel capable of traversing the rugged, dusty lunar terrain.
Steps Project Manager Piero Messidoro says the Steps technologies are being developed to fit with Europe's space exploration road map, including the robotic lunar lander and Thales Alenia Space-led ExoMars. “We have tried to be complementary to existing initiatives in ESA or in other countries, selecting areas in which we have both an interest and a good chance of success,” he says.
Thales Alenia Space is developing a habitable terrestrial vehicle to explore the surface of the Moon or Mars. To see a video of a half-scale demonstrator in action, check out the digital edition of AW&ST on leading tablets and smartphones, or go to AviationWeek.com/rover