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Surrey Satellite Technology Lunar to Lead Consortium for European Space Agency Moonlight Study

Published on: 24 May, 2021
Updated on: 24 May, 2021

Surrey Satellite Technology Lunar (SSTL) has been selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) to lead a consortium of international companies in a study into interconnected lunar satellites.

It will enable surface missions, even on the far side of the moon, to keep constant contact with the earth.

SSTL, part of Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd based in Guildford, will head the Moonlight Phase A/B1 Study to define the infrastructure for the communication and navigation satellites and how they will be developed.

European Space Agency Moonlight Study conceptual drawing. Credit SSTL / Airbus.

The plans for the constellation of interconnected lunar orbiters will support critical missions such as precision landing of scientific equipment and the operation of rovers.

Phase 1 of the project, a single spacecraft in lunar orbit, is due to launch and enter operation in 2023. Phase 2, the study into the interconnecting communications and navigations satellites, is already underway.

International teams including ESA partnering with NASA, and institutional and commercial groups are planning one-off missions or a permanent lunar presence. The satellites would reduce the price of lunar exploration and the complexity of individual missions, potentially making them lighter and freeing up space for additional payloads.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “I’m proud that it is UK space companies who are leading the way in making these become a reality.

“Britain’s expertise in navigation and telecommunications is second to none and this first of its kind commercial service – spearheaded by some of the UK’s most innovative businesses – demonstrates our ambition for the UK to become a world-leading space nation.”

Elodie Viau, ESA’s Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications, said: “A robust, reliable and efficient telecommunications and navigation system will make the dozens of individual missions planned for the moon more cost-efficient and enable smaller countries to become space-faring nations, inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers.”

SSTL’s Managing Director Phil Brownnett said: “Selection for the Moonlight Study is another step forward for our SSTL Lunar team and, together with our consortium partners, we will be bringing a wealth of both innovation and experience to our technical solution.”

The consortium will include the UK’s GMV-NSL, for the end-to-end navigation system, telecom satellites manufacturer Airbus for the telecommunications payload and Norwegian ground station service provider, Kongsberg Satellite Services, for the Earth Ground Segment solutions, in collaboration with UK Goonhilly Earth Station. Luxembourg’s SES is expected to be responsible for the telecom and service operations side.

The overall systems for both communication and navigation aspects will be handled by SSTL.

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