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ESA proposes constellation of lunar communications and navigation satellites

The European Space Agency is proposing in this decade to build a constellation of communications and GPS-type satellites, dubbed Moonlight, to orbit the Moon.

ESA is asking two industrial consortia in Europe to define what an integrated sat-nav and telecoms system at the Moon would look like.

It’ll include a constellation of at least three, but probably more, positioning-and-relay satellites to give global coverage, and will likely include some surface beacons, too, to augment the accuracy of the navigation signals.

“The target we have at the moment is that the constellation would be able to allow for an accuracy of 100m and probably better. We think we are able to get to 30m in the first instance,” explained Paul Verhoef, the director of ESA’s navigation department.

The two consortiums are the UK’s Surrey Satellite and Italy’s Telespazio.

It also appears the ESA is proposing making this system available to all lunar exploration missions, whether they be part of the U.S.’s Artemis program or China’s lunar plans. If so, it is commercially smart, as they will have plenty of customers to buy their services.


Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


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  • Max

    If I remember right, moon has a 2 mile horizon? Not only navigation would be difficult without roads and landmarks… over the horizon communication would need a relay to be possible.
    The prospectors will still have the stars and the earth to estimate their location… yeah but they’re really going to like having cell service with virtual heads up display in their helmet with navigation and targeting information readily available while talking to the family on earth in real time video conference. (or just streaming a movie while waiting for the automated equipment to finish their GPS guided mineral survey)

  • Max

    Just as an afterthought, the deep space network could use an upgrade at the same time using a large antenna receiver in a 28 day lunar orbit always facing away from the earth to avoid radio interference.

  • Jeff Wright

    Lunar orbits are tough

  • Chris Lopes

    Looks like we are about to get the future we thought we’d get after Apollo 11, only about a half a century later.

  • mpthompson

    Echoing Jeff Wright above, I thought that long-term lunar orbits are pretty tough to maintain because gravitationally the Moon with the Earth’s influence thrown in is the equivalent of driving down a very bumpy road in a very strong gale. This could make it tough for satellites to maintain stable orbits without substantial reaction control fuel for station keeping.

    Still, a very good idea if it can be made to work and at least 40 years overdue.

  • That would be cool, useful and necessary. Such a relay system would allow astronauts to communicate with Earth when they are on the far side of the moon. However, yes, I’ve heard that lunar orbits don’t last very long. It might be better to have a series of repeater towers on the moon.

  • Max

    There’s an old NASA project looking for a ride to the Moon.
    I hear Elon is heading there with an empty ship…
    He could probably even deploy a couple of temporary short live communication satellites that he has laying around somewhere…
    I wonder if he can figure out how? He does like a challenge… he’s kind of a show off.

    I think it be very ironic if they set up this robotic radio scope on the far side before the Webb telescope was launched.

  • mkent

    I think it be very ironic if they set up this robotic radio scope on the far side before the Webb telescope was launched.

    Ahhh, yes. Elon Musk is going to design and develop a giant radio telescope and build it on the far side of the moon all by October.

    Sheesh, do you guys realize how silly you sound?

  • Edward

    Jeff Wright wrote: “Lunar orbits are tough

    I believe that Jeff is referring to the Moon’s mass concentrations (mascons), which make low orbits fairly unstable.

    Lunar mascons alter the local gravity above and around them sufficiently that low and uncorrected satellite orbits around the Moon are unstable on a timescale of months or years. The small perturbations in the orbits accumulate and eventually distort the orbit enough that the satellite impacts the surface.

    The Earth has similar mascons, such as Mt. Everest (the Himalayas) and the 3-mile bulge of the equator, but these have less effect than lunar mascons. However, the perturbations caused by Earth’s mascons can be used, among other things, to create sun-synchronous orbits.

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