The European Space Agency will be the anchor client on a commercial lunar spacecraft

The European Space Agency has agreed to be the anchor client on the commercial lunar communications satellite being developed by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL). According to officials, ESA will acquire communications services and transport payloads on the Lunar Pathfinder, a tiny communications satellite that SSTL wants to deploy in 2024 as a showcase of a potential commercial lunar communications network SSTL and ESA.

The Lunar Pathfinder spacecraft is meant to fly in the “frozen” elliptical orbit that maintains it above the moon’s south polar regions. It will use S-band and UHF frequencies to communicate with spaceships on the lunar surface and in orbit, transmitting those communications to Earth through X-band.

In a statement, Phil Brownnett, who serves as the managing director of SSTL, said, “We are happy to sign up the ESA Agency as our anchor client for communication services from the Lunar Pathfinder mission.” “We’ve been working with ESA to scope the Lunar Pathfinder project for the commercial sector since 2018, and we’re excited to realize our goal of providing low-cost services as well as navigation data for the lunar assets.”

According to David Parker, the contract is valued over $23.5 million for a minimum of five years, director in charge of the human and the robotic space exploration at ESA.  ESA is flying a navigation package to test the capacity to utilize Galileo and GPS signals around the moon, as well as a space weather study to measure radiation. NASA will also provide a laser retroreflector for accurate laser range of the spacecraft on the orbiter.

This arrangement, according to Parker, is similar to NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, in which NASA purchases payload space on the commercial lunar landers although is not engaged in the lander’s construction or operation. He explained, “This is a case where ESA is purchasing services, buying payload, but is not accountable for the mission.”

Parker speculated that CLPS might end up using Lunar Pathfinder. “We expect to have our requirements for the payloads aboard the spacecraft,” he said, “but we are also in talks with NASA about using the data facilities to assist CLPS missions potentially.” This could help landers in the moon’s south polar regions, where direct connections with Earth are impossible.

In May, SSTL and Telespazio were awarded study contracts by the European Space Agency (ESA) for a project named Moonlight, which might lead to establishing the constellation of the satellite around the moon for navigation and communications services. These investigations, which will look at both technical and economic feasibility, will be completed next year.

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