Britain wants to put her own astronauts on the Moon - and to send the first-ever spacecraft to the Moon's South Pole....

Britain leaps from Stevenage to space

By Roger Highfield, Science Editor


Britain has taken a giant leap towards sending UK landers and astronauts to the Moon.

Britain's MoonTwins will send the first ever spacecraft to the South Pole of the Moon. Britain will work with its ally the United States

Nasa and the British National Space Centre signed an agreement in Washington to jointly study how the two agencies might work together on future exploration of the Moon and beyond.

Science and Innovation Minister Malcolm Wicks said: “During my recent meeting with Nasa’s Administrator Dr Michael Griffin, I was keen for the USA and UK to co-operate on exactly this sort of exciting endeavour.”

The Nasa administrator recently said “that level of participation would go so far as to include astronauts.”

Surrey Satellite Technology Limited has already performed a lunar exploration design study for the UK government that focused on two concepts, MoonLITE and MoonRaker.

MoonLITE (Moon Lightweight Interior and Telecom Experiment) would be launched in 2010. The British spacecraft will consist of four missile-shaped penetrators that will perform seismic tests on the Moon's deep structure. It would also have a small orbiter to relay data from the systems on the lunar surface.

MoonRaker, meanwhile, is a lander for geological dating.

A Mars rover under development by Astrium in Stevenage, Berkshire

In a third project, Astrium in Stevenage today announced that it has started work on a new scheme to test the technologies needed to land a spacecraft on the Moon.

The MoonTwins (Moon Technological Walk-through and In-situ Network Science) project aims to put two probes on the lunar surface, one at each pole, to do experiments.

The effort will send the first ever spacecraft to the “Peak of Eternal Light” near the Moon's South Pole. The sun never sets there, making it a prime spot for a lunar colony.

Funded by the European Space Agency, the project will also help show the feasibility of a Mars Sample Return mission scheduled for 2020 to retrieve samples for analysis on Earth.

Mike Healy, director of space science at Astrium says: “The MoonTwins study will be a great step forward for proving the technologies needed for the next step of space exploration.

"Sending a spacecraft to the South Pole has been a scientific goal for many years and exploring this area while carrying out seismic science means the MoonTwins mission will greatly expand our knowledge.”

The European Space Agency will study a number of proposals from different groups before settling on a final mission destination and design. It expects to fly a demonstrator in the period 2015 to 2018.

Last edited by Blackleaf; Apr 20th, 2007 at 01:42 PM..