The top layer of the moon, called the regolith, is rich in resources such as clays, glass fragments, minerals and chemical compounds like iron oxide from which the likes of oxygen, water and fuel can be extracted. This would mean that an organisation which mines the moon could begin establishing it as a sort of stepping stone to the wider solar system, where spaceships can refuel and replenish resources as they head to places such as Mars.
Dr David Parker, Director, Human and Robotic Exploration at ESA, said: “The use of space resources could be a key to sustainable lunar exploration and this study is part of ESA’s comprehensive plan to make Europe a partner in global exploration in the next decade – a plan we will put to our Ministers for decision later this year at the Space19+ Conference.”
The ESA has signed a year-long contract with rocket manufacturer ArianeGroup in preparation for building the ships to get to the moon.
André-Hubert Roussel, CEO of ArianeGroup, said: “This first contract – symbolically announced on the day of a lunar eclipse – is a milestone for ArianeGroup, which has for a long time been working on technological proposals for space logistics servicing.”
“It is also an opportunity to recall the ability of Ariane 64 to carry out Moon missions for its institutional customers, with a payload capacity of up to 8.5 metric tons.
“In this year, marking the fiftieth anniversary of Man’s first steps on the Moon, ArianeGroup will thus support all current and future European projects, in line with its mission to guarantee independent, sovereign access to space for Europe.”