Europe To Probe The Moon For Water | Out Of This World Weekly

The European Space Agency has approved a robotic mission to the Moon to search for water.  They are targeting the polar regions where water was possibly detected initially in 1994 by the U.S. military Clementine mission, though not conclusively.  In 1998, the Lunar Prospector detected large amounts of Hydrogen at the poles and this was thought to indicate large amount of water trapped in permanently shadowed lunar craters.  India’s Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbter later estimated 600 million metric tons of water ice. Later, the LCROSS mission flew through an ejecta plume and found what is thought to be find grained particles of almost pure water ice.  Even with all of these lunar probes, we are unsure of the exact amount and form that the lunar water is in.  While some tests showed large, thick slabs of water ice, others showed only fine grains of water ice mixed in with the lunar regolith or even possibly hydroxyl groups (-OH) chemically bonded to regolith merely masquerading as water.  If we are ever to exploit this absolutely necessary water on the Moon for human usage, we will need to know exactly where, how much, and what form it is in.

This ESA mission is being planned for 2018 and engine testing is underway using many of the same components that are in use on the ESA Automated Transfer Vehicle which is currently being used to ferry supplies to the I.S.S.  Contracts for the building of the lunar probe are still being handed out but several variants have been proposed.  The ESA is looking at a 1800lb probe that is about the size of a car to carry the instruments needed to dig for and positively detect water on the surface of the Moon.  The topography of the polar regions is being studied for suitable landing spots that correspond with possible easy access to water deposits.  Since there is no GPS available on the Moon, the lander will have to use visual recognition of the Moon’s surface to safely guide it to the target landing zone.  Once landed, the lander will use a robotic arm to scoop up soil from around the lander and feed it into instruments that will be able to detect the presence of water.  Since this probe is not wheeled, like several of the Mars rovers, it will be limited to soil in the direct area in which it lands. 


Going to the Moon has been done, so what is so special about this mission?  Yes, we have gotten men to the Moon and even returned large samples of lunar regolith.  What we need to survive on the Moon is water.  Not only to drink but it also can be separated into Hydrogen and Oxygen.  These can be used so we can have Oxygen to breathe, Hydrogen for energy and when you put them both together, you get rocket fuel.  All this information and water will be useful when we return to the Moon.  NASA stated last month that “We are going back to the Moon” and this included prospects for a lunar outpost.  Other nations have also showed interest in going to and possibly establishing lunar outposts as well.  With NASA designing the SLS rocket this goal would be possible in as little as 10 years.  It is no longer a question of if we are going back to the Moon but rather when we are going back and when will we have a permanent outpost on the Moon.  The ESA mission to the Moon to detect water could be an invaluable tool for designing the machines that will give us the access to water, oxygen, and hydrogen that are so necessary to us. 

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