The European Space Agency (ESA) has kicked off the development of a future satellite constellation that will orbit the moon and provide navigation and telecommunication services to lunar explorers.
If all goes according to plan, the new system could be in place in the late 2020s, only a few years after the expected landing of NASA’s crewed Artemis 3 mission near the lunar south pole.
ESA believes that Earth’s celestial companion is set to become a busy destination in the coming years, with commercial companies and nations from across the world all wanting a slice of the “eighth continent.” The new constellation, called Moonlight, will make it easier and cheaper for a fledgling lunar economy to blossom, ESA officials suggested in a news conference on Thursday (May 20).
“Having a navigation and telecommunication network to relay what we learn on the moon back to Earth will be key for sustainability of future missions,” Elodie Viau, ESA’s director of telecommunications and integrated applications, said in the news conference. “You can imagine astronomers setting up observatories on the far side of the moon. And as we have all now become accustomed to virtual meetings, who knows? We could be doing Skype on the moon.”